Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Cleanup On Aisle 69

Year: 2016
Director: Greg Tiernan & Conrad Vernon
Cast: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera
Run Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I can take or leave Seth Rogen. When he’s doing Neighbors or plying himself in The Comeback, I’m all in. When he’s working with Judd Apatow, I’m 50/50. I’ve never disliked a performance of his, nor have I been utterly enamored of one. But when it comes down to his producing and writing choices, I can’t deny that he’s hit his stride. While I haven’t adored every movie in his recent string of films (This is the End, The Interview, Neighbors 2), he’s unafraid of being conceptually audacious, and I have heaps of respect for that.

Which brings us to the latest entry in his oeuvre: Sausage Party, an R-rated twist on the Pixar ethos. While he comedy’s juvenile at best, the script has no right to be as thematically sharp and satirical as it is. He can put one more notch in his belt because, no paper, this one’s another win.

Butcher paper, that is.

In Sausage Party, the food in the grocery store is sentient, and all they want is to be taken home to the Great Beyond by us, the Gods. They believe we will grant them an eternity of happiness and sensual pleasure. However, when Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) is returned by a customer having become a shuddering wreck, hot dog Frank (Seth Rogen) begins to have doubts about the Great Beyond. His antics cause him and his devout bun girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wiig) to fall out of their cart, forced to find their home aisle before they lose their freshness.

Brenda wants her journey to lead her home, and Frank wants his journey to lead to the truth. They’re joined by Kareem Abdul Lavash (David Krumholtz) and Sammy Bagel Jr. (Edward Norton), two walking stereotypes that act out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for some godforsaken reason. Also there’s Barry (Michael Cera), a stunted hot dog who has seen the truth about the Great Beyond – that kitchens are essentially less-fun Jigsaw traps for groceries – and struggles to return to the store to warn his friend. Oh, and a douchey Douche (Nick Kroll) wants to destroy Frank and Brenda for accidentally bending his nozzle.

I don’t know whether it’s the fault of the middling-at-best, horrifyingly-inelegant-at-worst animation or my blissful ignorance, but I definitely thought he was a toilet brush for like 15 minutes.

Do you think cartoon characters cussing is the funniest thing in the world? Then you should just pre-order your special edition quadruple disc Blu-Ray now, because you are going to love the s**t out of Sausage Party. As expected, the film has one foot firmly plated in the sophomoric at all times, but it’s the other foot that’s going interesting places.

This whole script is a feature-length allegory about the creation of religion, the horrible things it makes people to to one another and themselves, and why we shouldn’t be so quick to cast judgment on people who subscribes to different belief systems than us. Also, the moral is that raging hedonism is our only defense against our inevitable mortality, so it’s pretty much like Toy Story 3. I know, right? You got your subtext all over my R-rated comedy! How did this get in here? It’s an incredibly clever story that has heck-all to do with naughty hijinks, but whatever. I’m there.

It’s to the point that I can actually see somebody’s life philosophy changing to some degree after a screening of Sausage Party. As alarming as that sounds, that honestly might just be a good thing. I’m physically upset by how deeply I respect the intellectual cogs spinning behind the movie’s colorful cartoon façade. And then, of course, the rest of the movie is mostly super racist.

Thanks, everybody. I was getting too deep into liking this movie.

Not only is the humor desperately crude, which I’m fine with, it gives in to its urge to pattern every ethnic food after the most revolting racial stereotypes that can be produced by a screenwriting cabal of white dudes. Shock humor is all well and god, and the film does manage to convert the hideously insensitive Lavash and Bagel arc into something sweet and then appropriately twisted, however most of the racial humor is not only distasteful, but kind of lazy.

It doesn’t take more than a teaspoon of thought to make Grits (Craig Robinson) an angry black stereotype or to name your Native American liquor character (Bill Hader, why) firewater. So it’s pointless as well as disrespectful. This is humor that’s older than anyone reading this, and it’s certainly not funny today, if it ever was to begin with.

I’m terribly sorry to have such bad news to report about that aspect of the humor, because a lot of Sausage Party is really fun. When it goes whole hog depicting violence or sexuality, the film is at its best, and I’m not just saying this as a horror fan. Watching a film so gleefully unafraid to push the envelope of Hollywood sensibilities is a massively liberating experience. It’s certainly not for everyone, but as a cartoon about food, it’s enough degrees separated form human experience that even non-gorehounds should be able to get a kick out of it.

So much of Sausage Party is fun and intelligent and so much of it is crass and low-rent that it’s difficult to synthesize a proper score for the monstrosity. What I’ll say is this: Go see t if you have a high threshold for fratty, tasteless comedy. If you don’t, who cares. Have a nice day.

TL;DR: Sausage Party is mostly irreverent, weirdly intelligent fun despite its unfortunately prevalent racism.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 962

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