Sausage Party (2016)

Seth Rogen has built a unique movie career for himself.  Beyond just the man-child persona of many of his characters, he has been part of a wave of comedy in the 21st century that is distinctly raunchy and yet also has some definite heart and surprising depth at times.  For years, those two ingredients were rarely ever mixed, but it is a formula that Rogen, Judd Apatow, and many of their frequent collaborators have crafted and perfected.  2013’s This Is The End was a comedic parody of Rogen and his friends living through the Biblical Apocalypse.  Now, Rogen and a bunch of his friends have created an animated film that tackles the subject of organized religion while still maintaining a considerable amount of raunchiness in Sausage Party.

This animated feature is set mostly in a supermarket named Shopwell’s.  Frank (Rogen) is one of eight hot dogs in a package who dreams of being united in the Great Beyond with his girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wiig), a bun in a package next to Frank’s.  It’s the day before Red, White, & Blue Day, and they, along with the rest of the various foods in their aisle look forward to being chosen by “the gods” (humans) to leave the store through the wide gates and out into the Great Beyond, where paradise awaits.  Frank and Brenda are saving themselves for that magical day, and are eventually chosen.  However, a returned bottle of Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) tries to tell everyone that there is no Great Beyond and throws chaos into the situation, resulting in a spill in an aisle and Frank and Brenda being out of their packaging along with  a bagel named Sammy (Ed Norton), a lavash named Kareem Abdul Lavash (David Krumholtz), and Douche (Nick Kroll) who is injured and bent (literally) on revenge on Frank for causing the accident.  Frank’s friends, Barry (Michael Cera) and Carl (Jonah Hill), as well as the other foods that were taken out of the store soon find out about the bleak reality that awaits them, while Frank tries to find out the true nature of the Great Beyond that Honey Mustard shared by seeking out Firewater (Bill Hader), a Native American bottle of liquor.

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It’s a well-conceived concept, and almost perfectly executed concept.  Various aisles of the store that Frank, Brenda, Sammy, and Lavash visit are made to resemble ethnic suburbs of a city.  There is lengthy banter between Sammy, with Norton doing a great Woody Allen vocal impression, and Lavash that serves as a stand-in for the constantly contentious situation between Israel and its neighbors.  The liquor aisle is a party scene.  The Mexican food section has scenes that play like an old western, with a saloon and everything, where we are introduced to Teresa (Salma Hayek), a lesbian taco who is trying to suppress her sinful urges but clearly lusts after Brenda when she meets her.  One of the things that really stands out about the film is its ability to jump around in genres and mine the food stereotypes for laughs.

Likewise, the way the depicts what happens in the Great Beyond is sobering and equally messed up and hilarious.  The film wisely cuts between the perspective of the food to that of the woman in her kitchen preparing them, and how to people they all just look like regular food.  It reminded me of the perspective shifts in Ant-Man that were used to great comedic effect when the toy trains collided.  There’s a definite Toy Story element to it as well, only in a much more demented way, because the toys in Toy Story aren’t food to be, in their eyes, massacred.  Perhaps my favorite scene of the film is the accident in the store that plays out like the opening of Saving Private Ryan.  There is also a great opening song that ranks right up there with some of the best, funniest songs from Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut and Team America: World Police.

It’s surprising that Rogan, Evan Goldberg, Hill were able to craft this story along with directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan to be a stand-in discussion on world religion and beliefs on the afterlife.  The film itself takes a definite stand on the issue, but it’s hard to take too much of it seriously, because it is intended to be less of a critique than a playful, irreverent ribbing of everyone and how seriously they take everything and that the way people handle it can create unnecessary harm in the world.  Brenda worries herself to death about the gods punishing her and Frank for “touching tips” at the beginning of the film.  Sammy and Lavash squabble over shelf space and how they can’t just share the aisle.

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Where the film comes up just a bit short, kind of like Barry, is that there is no real good way to end it.  The third act goes in a really crazy direction, which is funny and entertaining, but ultimately the film has to resort to a meta conclusion that nods to Stargate because the film itself is just so out there.  That conclusion also coincides with easily the raunchiest sequence of the film that earned the film its R-rating.

The voice cast is littered with other great talents.  Craig Robinson lends his voice to Grits, part of the Non-Perishables that is headed up by Firewater.  James Franco, Paul Rudd, Anders Holm also lend their voices to characters.  Nick Kroll does some standout work as Douche, voicing him like a douche bro from NYC that is obnoxious and oblivious.  He turns into a “juicer” on his path of revenge.  Kroll’s vocal performance is great, and the dialogue he gets to do is hilarious, as it includes a running gag of humorous double entendres (surprisingly not risqué) involving various foods.

Sausage Party is at times side-splittingly funny, raunchy, occasionally explicit and overtly debaucherous, and really out there as a concept.  However, it is also refreshingly confident in what it is doing and is unique.  It’s the latest example of how Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg are leaving their mark on modern comedy.  It is undoubtedly deserving of its R-rating, with frequent sexual references, but it is also interesting how the film broaches some heavier topics through its comedy.  It’s a film that falls into the hard t0 judge “smart dumb comedy.”  As I enjoyed This Is The End and now Sausage Party, I can only hope there is a third film eventually in the works, perhaps making a so-called Unholy Trilogy of irreverent films from these people.

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Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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