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LESS THAN CLEVER: Seth Rogen continues the stoner-comedy path in ‘Sausage Party’

Seth Rogen produces yet another stoner comedy; only this time, it’s animated.

“Sophomoric”: It’s a wonderful word that signifies lowbrow comedic hijinks. There are short-sighted individuals who turn their well-coiffed nose up at sophomoric comedies. But not me. Most of my favorite comedies are of the broad variety—fearless works, unafraid to go gross. “Animal House,” “Caddyshack,” “South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut,” and “BASEketball” are but a few absurd, unbridled examples I find to be a gift in our way-too-serious world.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Food stuff comes to life in Seth Rogen’s latest stoner comedy, ‘Sausage Party.’ Courtesy Sony Pictures Entertainment

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Food stuff comes to life in Seth Rogen’s latest stoner comedy, ‘Sausage Party.’ Courtesy Sony Pictures Entertainment

Seth Rogen has made a career writing, producing and starring in sophomoric stoner comedies. In the past decade-plus, he has transformed himself from Judd Apatow supporting player to a bonafide Hollywood powerhouse. Over the years he’s appeared in a dozen different comedies with one thing in common: They’re all the same. I’d be remiss to call Rogen a one-trick pony because the man has made himself into a Hollywood triple threat both in front of and behind the camera. With “Sausage Party,” I feel comfortable over-analyzing his comedic style and brand to declare I’m officially “over it.”

“Sausage Party” is a film with a very clever premise. It skews the overly cute, oversaturated world of animated films, inspired by Pixar’s anthropomorphized license to print money.  Rogen and creative partner Adam Goldberg have taken this ripe-for-satire cinematic formula and applied it to a grocery store where food items wait in the aisles and hope to be picked up by “gods” and taken to the glorious “Great Beyond.” It’s all sunshine and sing-a-longs until one returned jar of honey mustard (Danny McBride) reveals the “Great Beyond” is anything but. These so-called gods don’t take food home for care but for consumption. I had a pretty good time laughing over a jar of honey mustard having a PTSD-style breakdown after realizing this collective theism is one big lie. Also at that moment, the film stopped doing anything novel.

“Sausage Party” turns into any typical animated film, as a sausage named Frank (Rogen), a bouncy bun named Brenda (Kristen Wiig), a bagel (Edward Norton), and a piece of pita bread have to try and convince the other food in the grocery store their world is a lie.  I say “typical” only in terms of plot; otherwise, “Sausage Party” is not an average animated film. Fifty percent of the movie hinges on how likely audiences are to laugh at very on-the-nose gags posing as something clever. They will never believe it, but the bagel is Jewish.  The pita bread is Middle Eastern. Tacos are Mexican and a douche (Nick Kroll) is a complete douche.

So much of the film’s script plays out like a doodle in the margins of a bored 14-year-old’s textbook. The other half hinges on how comfortable an audience is with dick and fart jokes.  Because high holy hell, there’s a lot of them. 

At its best, the film works when it goes super dark. There are hilarious bits in the middle and deals with posthumous corn and used condoms. Both prove shockingly funny in concept and execution. There is also fun to be had with bath salts—something that feels so strange to see in an animated film. Yet, the film falters because it spends too much time on the predictable characterizations and the crass sex gags. As a creator Rogen seems to have a very loud, singular voice. He’s capable of creating some original concepts and funny scenes, but the characters and jokes remain very much the same. Other than the characters being food, not a whole lot separates “Sausage Party” from “Superbad” or “The Night Before” or “The Interview.”  Actually, “Sausage Party” loses points because the more simplified animated storytelling means less fully developed characters, which helps Rogen’s films feel like something more than an average stoner comedy.

The truth: “Sausage Party” is just average. Sure, there are funny bits and a handful of clever moments to help counteract some of the more grating elements. Overall, it’s a story with a strong concept that never fulfills its dark, existential premise.

At this point in his career, it feels like Rogen-the-writer needs to find a new muse. Maybe it’s time to retire the pot and switch to Molly.

DETAILS:
Sausage Party
Two out of five stars
Rated R
Directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon
Starring Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, James Franco

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