In the R-rated animated comedy “Sausage Party,” two filmmakers who have previously delighted millions of children – Greg Tiernan of the “Thomas & Friends” franchise and his co-director Conrad Vernon of “Shrek 2” – seem to have been kidnapped by a gang of Hollywood stoners hell-bent on grossing out their parents. Highbrow entertainment it is not, but it does contain a few meaty ideas. Unfortunately, those ideas are drowning in other fluids.
The movie takes a ribald look at the anthropomorphic inventory of a supermarket named Shopwell’s, where talking hot dogs and hot dog buns swap sexual innuendo from shelf to shelf while cursing like (edible) sailors. The hero, Frank (voice of Seth Rogen), has his eye set on Brenda (Kristen Wiig), a bun who wants to save her virtue for what, in the mythology of the store’s food items, is known as the “Great Beyond”: the world outside the checkout stands.
When a customer brings back a jar of honey mustard he purchased by mistake, the condiment (Danny McBride) returns to regale his comrades with horror stories of a hellish place where human “gods” turn out to be monsters that ravenously consume their subjects.
That initially hard-to-swallow premise delivers a lesson about the danger of believing conventional wisdom, but it comes in the form of a mixed message. Open your eyes, says Frank, who becomes convinced of the truth of Honey Mustard’s tales, despite his friends’ reluctance to accept it. But what might have also been a satirical indictment of blind faith and consumerism comes courtesy of comedy’s gross-out king: Rogen, one of the film’s co-writers and producers, heads up what has become a clownish repertory company featuring McBride, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and others.
Most of “Sausage Party” plays out like a sex farce – albeit a very unusual one – yet it works best in scenes that reveal the mundane terrors of the kitchen, which becomes a place of unspeakable savagery for the groceries that make it out of the store.
In essence, Rogen and his buddies have returned, in animated form, to the style and themes of their 2013 hit “This Is the End”: part raunch-fest, part meta-comedy. But the characters portrayed by newcomers to his acting company fare better than its regulars. Scott Underwood, a storyboard artist known for his work on “Ed, Edd ‘n’ Eddy,” has the cleverest role as a wad of chewed-up gum, whose wheelchair and robotic voice are clearly modeled on those of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. Salma Hayek, who memorably gnawed on raw meat in this year’s “Tale of Tales,” is also effective as Teresa Taco, one of the film’s better-designed characters. (And yes, the filmmakers have spared no ethnic stereotype in their equal-opportunity offensiveness.)
The action is set in motion on July 3, the day before Independence Day. After spending most of its 89 minutes on a campaign of shock and ew, the movie has the nerve to close with a message of tolerance: Let’s put aside our differences, “Sausage Party” preaches, for the sake of national unity. That saccharine sauce, on top of an unsavory dish, proves that some flavors simply shouldn’t be combined.
Two stars. “Sausage Party” (89 minutes) is rated R for strong language, sexual situations and a lot of wasted food.
Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.