Review, “Sausage Party” — *1 and 1/2 stars (out of ****)
Released August 12th, 2016
Directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon
Written by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jonah Hill, Kyle Hunter, and Ariel Shaffir
Starring Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Edward Norton, Salma Hayek, Michael Cera, and Hill, David Krumholtz
Running Time: 99 minutes
Box Office To Date: $33.6 million
“Sausage Party,” the lewd Pixar parody from the minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, is a clever and well-directed little comedy that, although funny in spurts, relies way too heavily on self-referential winks and pointlessly dirty dialogue that make it a one-joke pony better suited to Adult Swim than a cinematic release. Now I thought the trailer for this was the best one of the year so far. At a time when companies like Dreamworks and Pixar are pumping out one anthropomorphic story after another, it was a brilliant and hilarious turn to see food given the same treatment and follow the premise to its logical end: food gets eaten! The world-building of the “Sausage Party” food items’ reality is sound, and the movie is successful at living by its own rules as far as the narrative goes. It even has a an interesting philosophical question at its core, examining the purpose of religion and faith in the face of a seemingly meaningless world. But sadly all of that gets sacrificed for the novelty of food having a sex orgy and what that might look like.
Rogen and Goldberg are smart guys, so it’s that much more disappointing to see them consistently shy away from the interesting questions they raise and instead rest on the laurels of stoner humor and profane language to take them through to the finish line. There’s nothing original about animated fare being vulgar, “South Park” has been doing it for years and in a much more restrained and motivated way. But unlike “South Park,” which gets written and produced in one week with primitive animations, “Sausage Party” has the look and feel of a story that should have surpassed the worst tendencies of the Rogen squad. The direction is frankly fantastic, there’s a sequence early on spoofing “Saving Private Ryan”‘s D-Day scene that is well done whether you know the reference or not. Really, all the visuals move interestingly and are stitched together with smart, cinematic transitions that keep the flow moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, that direction gets dampened by tiring dialogue that thinks gross imagery is always enough for a laugh. I loved Danny McBride as Kenny Powers because Kenny Powers was a fully drawn out character. But Danny McBride speaking like Kenny Powers as a mustard jar isn’t enough unless I know it’s Danny McBride and somehow bring that to my viewing experience myself.
That’s really been the biggest weakness of Rogen and Goldberg’s writing lately, and in this film especially. They rely on a combination of pop culture references and crassness that used to play when it wasn’t about themselves. But at some point Rogen became as famous as the people he was referencing, and what was fresh now feels like a smug in-joke that you have be to lucky to understand. I hated “This Is The End” for that reason, which, to use imagery Mr. Rogen would approve of, was like a cum-filled circle jerk going round and round and round until nobody had any cum left in them. “Sausage Party” at least has the conceit of parodying a part of the industry that hasn’t involved the Rogen clan, and it’s a shame that they didn’t have the restraint to not make it about themselves. If you thought you wouldn’t actually have to see Seth Rogen’s face in this, spoiler alert, the movie actually goes as far as to admit to being his creation and finds a way to cheaply cram him in. What exactly is the joke there? I’m not sure. But a much more important question to people spending $15 to go to the cinemas, who’s the joke actually on? “Sausage Party” is worth a view for sure, but do yourself a favor and just wait for it to come out on Netflix.