If you step into a theater showing Sausage Party with even the faintest idea of what kind of movie you’re setting up to watch, the vast majority of what lies ahead will not surprise you. This may sound damning for a film built so firmly on a foundation of shock humor. In fact, that the movie relies so heavily on both the intrinsic comedic value and wow factor of its central conceit is its biggest shortcoming, as only so many sequences of hot dogs and bagels talking, singing, cursing, killing, and screwing can play as freshly funny and earnestly upending on that basis alone. It’s when Sausage Party introduces its meat—the themes and ideologies around which the screwball supermarket adventure is wrapped—that the film may really take you by surprise.
In fairness, we shouldn’t be especially jostled to learn that a movie co-written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg has more than a shred of existential rumination behind it. Granted, maybe the overeager nature of how Sausage Party delivers its laughs—i.e., an early sequence in which a sausage (voiced by Rogen) and a hot dog bun (Kristen Wiig) engaged in a particularly unsubtle fit of dirty talk—seems to leave little room for a sophisticated conversation about religion. Although delivered just as boldly and unsubtly as its legion of sexualized foodstuff gags, Sausage Party’s philosophical musings are not only ripe for the plucking, but wholly responsible for keeping the its comic components from growing too stale.
A long-awaited carnal conquest is hardly the only thing on the minds of our frankfurter protagonist and his grainy betrothed. The scripture of their market community preaches that paradise awaits any individual picked off the shelves for purchase by one of the gods—we know them as humans. It is only when a jar of honey mustard is returned from “the great beyond” that word of the true, grisly fate for bought food items begins to spread around the store.
Along with several twists of virtual chaos, this leads to the narrative’s pivotal discussion, upheld by a skeptical sausage and a god-fearing bun. Questions arise about the pros and cons of blind devotion; logic is waged against faith; even the issue of how to effectively debate such matters is brought to light. And while Sausage Party never exceeds the realm of broad strokes in its exploration of these subjects, it’s worth asking if it really needs to. On the one hand, if a movie opts to engage in such an inherently nuanced conversation, shouldn’t it strive to bring something new, or at least more deliberately thought-out, to the table? On the other hand, isn’t it enough that a movie that features a bottle of moonshine getting stoned with a box of instant grits and a Twinkie is willing to have a chat about religion in the first place?
While you ponder that query, Sausage Party will continue to lag on through scene after scene of shock comedy and racial humor. The movie leans merrily into every conceivable ethnic and cultural stereotype, lining its cast with characters that’ll doubtlessly play as too far for some, and too silly to warrant genuine offense for others. Headlining this culinary community are Edward Norton affecting Woody Allen as a Jewish bagel, David Krumholtz playing on Middle Eastern stereotypes as a piece of lavash—those two do not get along, I’ll add—and Salma Hayek parodying her Mexican heritage—and going for a double-whammy with a few lesbian jokes—as a gay Mexican taco. The funniest performance, and far and away least potentially offensive character, is a douche—I mean that literally—played to full Jersey Shore meathead form by Nick Kroll.
These characters’ travails across the market, as well as some (most notably, a stubby hot dog played by Michael Cera) outside the establishment walls, do lend to the opportunity for a few great conceptual gags. To rehash my above note on the comedy’s predictability, you can likely guess what sort of jokes are mined from the Mexican foods section, the seafood corner, the liquor aisle, and so on. Still, they’re occasionally fun to see played out beyond propriety. And of course, the food puns are plentiful in Sausage Party. Some of them, I’ll grant, are pretty good, though perhaps not good enough to forgive the material’s intimidating volume. Between Rogen, Wiig, Krumholtz, Norton, Hayek, Kroll, and Cera’s characters, there is actually a lot of plot carrying on in this movie.
In the end, Sausage Party is really just a bit too much. Though you can’t accuse the film of being unaware that it crosses a few lines and indulges in a few excesses, it doesn’t necessarily seem to realize that the overabundance of every one of its comic elements actually undermines their oomph in the end. Still, jokes do land, even when repetitive. Thematic discussions do pervade and occasionally charm, even if simplistic. Maybe if the movie employed a bit more subtlety on all fronts, it’d be a far more successful outing. But subtlety seems like it was one of Sausage Party‘s chief adversaries from the ground shelf up.
Rating: 3 burritos out of 5.
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor of Nerdist. Find him on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.