Sausage Party‘s most charming quality is that it feels exactly like a group of 13-year-olds trying to entertain themselves, with excessive C-bombs and constant groan-worthy food puns — best exemplified by a tub of guacamole getting hit in the groin and shouting “Oof, got me right in the guac and balls!”
I still remember where I was the first time I heard Adam Sandler screeching “my neighbor’s dog has a four-inch clit” and “I looked at my asshole in the mirror today” in his “buffoon” voice on one of his CDs. I was about 13 and that was probably the hardest I’d ever laughed up to that point in my life. I nearly shook the nacho cheese stains off my oversized striped T-shirt. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that comedic sensibility — of packing every sentence with at least four swear words, of trying to relate every thought back to dicks, twats, or sh*t — transposed so seamlessly to the motion picture as in Sausage Party. Mom and Dad are in bed, you guys, let’s swear a lot and smoke cigarettes until we cough!
So-stupid-it’s-funny humor is more like porn than art: It either gets you off or it doesn’t. I’ll take goofy and vulgar over staid and clever any day, as long as the vulgar goofiness is sufficiently bold. And Sausage Party is… mostly. Seth Rogen and his team of co-writers (Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Evan Goldberg, Jonah Hill, with direction from Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan) do eventually flirt with something more profound, a sort of religious parable starring sentient food, with everything outside the store as the great beyond.
But they don’t quite have Trey Parker’s genius for combining sh*t puns and social commentary. (Does anyone?) And they never really answer their own big question. Consequently, the last few minutes of Sausage Party feel like a copout. The film doubles up on vulgar to make up for it (shades of the Team America sex scene), but overcompensating vulgarity isn’t nearly as fun as vulgarity for vulgarity’s sake. In fact, it’s kind of a betrayal. Vulgarity is for baring your deepest, sh*t-covered feelings, not deflecting them. Sausage Party is close to being an R-rated Cheech and Chong take on Toy Story 3, but it never builds to anything like the furnace scene. And if you aren’t scared of saying the C-word, you shouldn’t be scared of the existential.
Seth Rogen voices a hot dog named Frank (get it?), who, like all of the rest of his hot-dog buddies in the pack, dreams of the day when the “Gods” (grocery store shoppers) will one day remove them from the store and take them to the “promised land.” Which in their minds is like Heaven, where you also get to f*ck. In the promised land, the plastic keeping them fresh will finally be removed, and they’ll get to go raw dog (yes, they say “raw dog” explicitly, because of course) into the eager, waiting crevices of their shelf mates, the buns. Frank’s girlfriend, Brenda (the bun), is voiced by Kristen Wiig, and his friends include Carl (Jonah Hill) and a slightly malformed frank voiced by Michael Cera. “Don’t worry about it, buddy, you’ve got girth!” Frank reassures him.
There’s also a douche voiced by Nick Kroll (doing his best Jersey Shore bro, a character who should be familiar to anyone who’s listened to Comedy Bang Bang), a returned jar of honey mustard with PTSD (Danny McBride), and all manner of ethnic stereotypes, including a Middle Eastern lavosh bread and a nebbish bagel, played by Edward Norton doing a Woody Allen impression. Like Adam Sandler (and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog) before them, Rogen and company recognize that words like sh*t, piss, f*ck, c*nt, c*cksucker, motherf*cker, t*ts, fart, turd, and twat are double funny when bellowed in a silly accent. The voice work here is stellar, particularly from Kroll, who is better than anyone at silly-voiced character improv. He finds novel verbal tics and unexpected pathos in a character that, as written, is literally just a sentient douche that acts douche-y.
There’s a wisp of social commentary, the old why-can’t-the-Arabs-and-the-Israelis-just-get-along plot, plus some Nazi sauerkraut who want to kill all the juice (timely!). But the R-rated “It’s A Small World” racial breakdown is about 99 percent excuse-for-silly-accents and 1 percent actually about race. Which is fine. If done correctly, accents can be funny without it being a value judgement; that’s why 4-year-olds laugh at them.
Oh right, but about that religious parable: Sausage Party milks the silly food puns for all they’re worth (there’s also a tampon named “Camille Toe”), but the fact that it feints toward something more is both what keeps it interesting and prevents it from being great. When Frank discovers that the promised land isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (with help from “the unperishables,” led by a Native American bottle of “Firewater” voiced by Bill Hader), he tries to warn the others. When the rest of the store’s products aren’t exactly receptive to the idea that life is just a shrink-wrapped bag of sentient dicks and then you die, Frank’s buddy Barry (the Michael Cera dog) tells him, “You’ve gotta give them hope!”
You could say the same thing for Sausage Party. It can’t quite figure out how to simultaneously be real and give us hope, and instead merely expands on the idea that “Heaven is f*cking.” Which is… I don’t know, sort of novel, I guess. It isn’t quite as disappointing as This Is The End‘s rap-video conception of Heaven, but it’s not exactly satisfying either. It gets points for boldness, but in the end Sausage Party can only manage to fill our buns with a malformed hot dog. Oh well, I guess it had girth.
Vince Mancini is a writer, comedian, and podcaster. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.