R-rated "Sausage Party" Proves A Breathlessly Unfunny Lark

Comedic man for all seasons Seth Rogen (actor, writer, producer, and director) has toplined some of the most subversive – and best – studio comedies of the twenty-first century. From the depraved (“Observe And Report”) to the antisocial (“This Is The End”) to the incendiary (“The Interview“), the star has always put his money where his loud mouth is, delivering consistently uproarious movies that no one else could have dreamed up – let alone gotten a greenlight. Sony’s R-rated “Sausage Party” aspires to that same class. The bawdy animated comedy has been a pet project of Rogen’s for nearly a decade, set to prove, once and for all, that animation can be aimed at adults, too.

Except, the only thing it proves over its 90 minutes of one-note food puns is that R-rated animation can be even more childish than animation aimed at children.

Rogen voices lead character Frank, an anthropomorphic hot dog residing in a supermarket. He and his frankfurter friends, Barry (Michael Cera) and Carl (Jonah Hill), are prepping to be chosen by a god (shopper) and carried off into the great beyond (outside the store) to live a life of freedom and happiness. They bide their time flirting with a nearby package of buns (Brenda, voiced by Kristen Wiig, is Frank’s de facto girlfriend) and dealing in four-letter words like their lives depend on it.

The store’s thousands of inanimate-turned-animated inhabitants begin each day with a song to the gods (music by Disney legend and eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken, who deserves so much better), encapsulating all of the movie’s thematic material into three minutes, leaving it all to be spread thinly over the next eighty-seven. The gist is that they’re all true believers set to be crushed by the cruel realities of the outside world; that their beloved gods are actually barbaric monsters that will bake, barbecue, or boil them at a moment’s notice; that they’re essentially living out classic “Twilight Zone” episode “To Serve Man.”

This pro-intellectualism, anti-religious bent is neither particularly inspired (it was done a decade ago by “Mad Max” filmmaker George Miller in animated kids movie “Happy Feet”) nor compatible with an otherwise sophomoric screenplay. It’s Richard Dawkins meets dick jokes, with the story’s atheism (bordering on nihilism) clashing loudly with its endless stream of phallic references and exhaustive stereotyping. Every ethnic group is targeted, and while it’s not mean-spirited, it’s certainly tedious, reinforcing all of the same old, tired racism that’s best left to repeat viewings of “Blazing Saddles.”

Cera’s Barry is the movie’s lone compelling character. The misshapen sausage’s dark journey outside of the store provided the basis for the film’s trailers, promising all kinds of disturbing horror-comedy. And these scenes deliver, comprising the only corner of the film that comes close to making good on its promise. Even a tasteless subplot about a human doing bath salts and seeing his food for the sentient creatures they are proves modestly funny. And Cera’s lively voice acting is a treat.

But everything set in the store itself is comedic poison. The villain is a douche named Douche who acts like a douche (this is about as creative as the movie gets), the smartest characters are stoners, and the film’s four writers have no problem employing fossilized gay jokes every time they’re in need of an easy laugh (see: an army of fruit marching to Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”). Some of the gags are so hacky they’d turn Carrot Top into a beet.

Lost in all of this are two genuinely amusing voice performances by Ed Norton (as a Woody Allen-esque bagel) and Salma Hayek (as a lesbian taco). Like Menken, they deserve better.

By the time the film climaxes in a food orgy scene that isn’t half as funny as it thinks it is, audience members who’ve resisted the urge to walk out will be treated to the resolution of conflict in the Middle East they never imagined they’d live to see. (A bagel has graphic sex with a flatbread.) It’s good of the producers to be so globally-minded, but perhaps they’d have been better served by thinking smaller – like paying their animators.

A truly funny film would rise above the din of juvenilia. “Sausage Party” is not that film. It’s content to remain in sub-lowbrow land for the duration, except when it feels like imparting a lofty message it never earns. It is truly the cinematic middle school fever dream to end all middle school fever dreams, the ultimate entry in the pantheon of films aimed at an age group too young to see it. Unless the thought of a hot dog smoking pot out of a kazoo turns up the corners of your lips, give long double entendre “Sausage Party” a hard pass.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: August 12, 2016
Studio: Sony Pictures
Director: Conrad Vernon, Greg Tiernan
Screenwriters: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir
Starring: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Salma Hayek, Edward Norton, David Krumholtz, Nick Kroll, Michael Cera, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Bill Hader, Anders Holm, Paul Rudd, Danny McBride
MPAA Rating: R (for strong crude sexual content, pervasive language, and drug use)