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Dustin Putman

Sausage Party  (2016)
3½ Stars
Directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon.
Voice Cast: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, Salma Hayek, James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd, Nick Kroll, David Krumholtz, Edward Norton, Iris Apatow, Sugar Lyn Beard, Ian James Corlett, Alistair Abell, Michael Dangerfield, Brian Dobson, Michael Dobson, Ian Hanlin, Maryke Hendrikse, Anders Holm, Lauren Miller, Vincent Tong, Scott Underwood, Sam Vincent, Harland Williams, Nicole Oliver, Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon.
2016 – 89 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong crude sexual content, language and drug use).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, August 11, 2016.
An R-rated, Pixar-inspired animated feature concocted by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg (2016's "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising") sounds at first sight like it might be a staunchly crude, 89-minute excuse for cute anthropomorphic food to smoke weed while engaging in a stream of four-letter words. To be sure, "Sausage Party" does not disappoint on either count, but it is much, much more than what most viewers will be expecting. As directed by Conrad Vernon (2012's "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted") and Greg Tiernan and co-written by Kyle Hunter & Ariel Shaffir (2015's "The Night Before") and Rogen & Goldberg, this gorgeously composed, genre-hopping satire proves to be a lacerating comment on religion and the frailty of personal belief systems. That it's meant to be funny is almost beside the point, the laughs frequently taking a backseat to its terrifying yet somehow sweet audaciousness.

With each new day, the items lining the shelves at Shopwell's grocery store eagerly await their turn to be chosen, whisked away to a place of eternal glory they call The Great Beyond. Their delusion of a grand, glorious afterlife is suddenly shattered when a returned bottle of Honey Mustard (voiced by Danny McBride) speaks of the traumatizing horrors which lie outside the doors of the supermarket—namely, that The Great Beyond is really just code for being viciously skewered, chopped up, chewed and murdered. Narrowly escaping from their packages, hot dog Frank (Seth Rogen) and soulmate bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) are left stranded among the colossal shopping aisles. Their voyage to safety ultimately leads them to a tough, eye-opening truth about the origins of their faith and the harrowing endpoint to their existence.

"Sausage Party" breaks down sacred barriers and leaves political correctness for dead. It also happens to be one of the most auspiciously clever, unexpectedly thoughtful films of the year. The double entendres and tricky food-centric wordplays pile-drive fast and furiously through all modicums of pleasant taste, but it is the shrewdly inventive story—a gutsy, microcosmic metaphor challenging theological ideals and human spirituality—where the picture transcends being simply a silly, raunchy good time. Indeed, there is something deeper and darker—and, at the same time, beautifully sublime—about the places the filmmakers dare to tread and the empathy afforded its characters and their journey toward a different form of enlightenment.

Thematic surprises and creative ingenuities overflow even in those rare instances when momentum threatens to lag and a climactic action set-piece runs long. Meanwhile, a roster of brightly conceived supporting characters breathe life and nuance into their computer-animated roles. There's Firewater (Bill Hader), a wise, all-knowing indigene whose shelf space has been stolen by the crackers; saucy hard-shell taco Teresa (Salma Hayek), careful to not upset her God even as she fights her attraction for the curvaceous Brenda; Jewish bagel Sammy (Edward Norton) and Arabic flatbread Lavash (David Krumholtz), forced to work together even as their intolerance for each other threatens to tear them apart, and wieners Barry (Michael Cera) and Carl (Jonah Hill), who must struggle to survive when they are bought by a woman about to prepare for a 4th of July picnic. At the movie's center are Seth Rogen and the indispensable Kristen Wiig (2016's "Ghostbusters") as Frank and Brenda, who even through their profane pillow talk and carnally loaded goo-goo eyes build an irresistible, genuinely romantic rapport.

Opening with an unapologetically subversive musical number written by Alan Menken and closing with a series of stupefying developments one should discover on his or her own, "Sausage Party" proves with each new minute it has far more on its mind than mere shock value. As other food items comfort themselves with improbably happy thoughts when the alternative becomes too much for them to accept, Frank and Brenda must lead a fight whose victory they know can only be temporary. If the only fate awaiting them is nothingness, it's all the more reason for them to not let the one life they've got pass them by. "Sausage Party" may be a comedy by definition, but it excels as a study in harrowing dread and terror. It may earn a number of laughs, but its rumination on mortality grounds the tale in an underlying pathos and grace. It may cast a critical eye toward intensely personal subject matter, but it does so in a way that is fair and necessary. Oh, and it's a love story, too—a pretty great one at that. A bold, visually exuberant fusion of provocative adult content with an art form too often chalked up as being strictly for kids, "Sausage Party" is something special.
© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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