Bun Sex. Revenge Douche. Bath Salts. If “Sausage Party” doesn’t win Strangest IMDB Keywords of 2016, surely the film that beats it won’t feature a CG-animated cast of talking supermarket items. From a story by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and with an incredible voice cast including Rogen, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, Edward Norton, and Salma Hayek, it’s a film so outrageous, it took the producing might of Megan Ellison to finally get it made. Though it plays like a Pixar movie on acid, the film is also a brisk disappointment that takes every opportunity to shock, maim, or offend; for every inspired gag that earns a massive laugh, there are too many others that rely on food puns or the funniest variation of “fuck” for a cartoon hot dog to say.
Shown as a work-in-progress screening at SXSW — a legitimate claim, since certain sequences or shots were unfinished or simply pencil-drawn storyboards — the film presents itself as the first R-rated CG-animated film. Set in a world where sentient grocery items interact while humans shop, screenwriters Rogen, Goldberg, Ariel Shaffir, and Kyle Hunter celebrate that unique ratings twist by packing in several films’ worth of weed jokes, sex scenes, horrifying violence, and a villain named Douche (Nick Kroll, in pure Bobby Bottleservice mode from “Kroll Show”) that is allowed to be an actual douche.
The plot follows hot-dog and hot-dog-bun couple Frank (Rogen) and Brenda (Wiig), who live and flirt with one another in separate packages on a supermarket display. Like every other item in the grocery store, they both believe they’re headed to “The Great Beyond” when the humans, or “Gods,” take them to the check out. But once a shell-shocked Honey Mustard jar returns to the store with news of what humans actually do to food, Frank vows to find proof and show it to the other food items before a massive Fourth of July sale hits that could kill them all.
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The obvious bar that the filmmakers reach for is “South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut,” still the high-water mark in adult-geared animation, which blended political commentary with wall-to-wall humor. “Sausage Party” tries to copy that approach here, courting controversy by touching on a number of unexpected hot-button topics – immigration, Israeli-Palestinian relations, atheism, and even the massacre of Native Americans.
No accent or caricature is left untouched in the process: Imagine how cannoli, tacos, or a piece of flatbread named Lavash might sound if Trey Parker and Matt Stone took a first pass, and you’re close. To its detriment, a hit-or-miss use of racial stereotypes and quips sets up a political framework that feels incomplete. When Craig Robinson plays a militant Box of Grits who hates “crackers,” or Woody Allen-aping bagel Sammy (Norton) argues with Lavash about their “territory” negotiation, the chance for actual commentary is skipped to pursue yet another undercooked pun.
However, an early grocery-cart accident parodying “Saving Private Ryan” — while a fairly tired concept to still pull from — becomes a comic highlight thanks to pitch-perfect execution by directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan. The duo also gains huge laughs from another gory encounter, as Frank’s hot-dog package-mates Carl (Hill) and Barry (Cera) watch their friends fall prey to a woman making stew.
But truly, what will be talked about most with “Sausage Party” is likely also the reason why Rogen and Goldberg faced resistance in making it: an epic, escalating orgy scene between food items, one that feels to group sex what Peter Jackson’s “Dead Alive” was to mass zombie killing: an utterly outlandish spectacle. But while this scene, an overall R rating, and reliable voice cast in “Sausage Party” cement the film as one of the year’s oddest releases so far, its half-baked political ideas take away from the wholly satisfying and surreal Pixar riff it could have been. [C-]