Seth Rogen thinks smoking weed is hilarious.
Not jokes about weed or goofy predicaments that result from being high. No, for him, the simple act itself represents the pinnacle of comedy.
“Sausage Party,” an R-rated animated feature he co-wrote and stars in, hinges on the premise of what would happen if food were sentient. And, more importantly, what if food smoked weed? From Rogen’s fogged viewpoint, that means a Buster Keaton-meets-the-Marx-Brothers level of funny.
There’s also no shortage of sex and vulgarity in “Sausage Party,” some of which does elicit laughs. At its best, the movie offers in-your-face raunch in the spirit of the superior “Team America: World Police” and “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.” At its worst, it comes across like stoners playing with their groceries in between bong hits.
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Fortunately for Rogen, these “stoner buddies” are also talented celebrities from his past collaborations such as “This Is the End” and “Pineapple Express.”
Rogen voices Frank, a gregarious wiener cooped up in a Fancy Dogs package, waiting to hook up with a flirty Glamour Bun (Kristen Wiig) shelved next to him. As the Fourth of July holiday approaches, all the items in Shopwell’s superstore are hoping to be chosen by the gods — aka customers — who will transport them to “The Great Beyond.” But they simultaneously live in fear of the store manager (Kansas City’s Paul Rudd), whose callous actions jeopardize their prospects.
Then a returned jar of honey mustard (Danny McBride) acts as a harbinger of doom with claims that the afterlife is deadly. With his fellow hot dogs (including Jonah Hill and Michael Cera) ushered away on their own ordeal, Frank heads on a fact-finding mission through the chain retailer, accumulating companions along the way. These include a lesbian taco (Salma Hayek), a Middle Eastern flatbread (David Krumholtz) and a Jewish bagel (Edward Norton channeling Woody Allen). They’re also hunted by a spurned product who is both literally and figuratively a douche (Nick Kroll).
Sound offensive? That’s the idea. Yet it’s the kind of equal-opportunity offensiveness that is calculatingly over the top. The outcome proves more tiresome than inflammatory.
Improving matters is the overall look of the film, co-directed by Greg Tiernan (the kids series “Thomas and Friends”) and Conrad Vernon (“Monster vs. Aliens”). Their collision of PBS Kids-style imagery with cinematic staging provides unique visuals. (A shopping cart accident gets shot like the D-Day scene in “Saving Private Ryan.”) And the clever character design, stressing bulbous eyes and gloved hands, helps sell the anthropomorphic conceit, even when it’s applied to a roll of toilet paper.
(Note: There’s no real pattern to what stuff is alive in this world. A ketchup bottle and a condom are, but a kitchen knife and a plate aren’t. Rogen and writers Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Evan Goldberg and Jonah Hill never maintain consistency.)
When “Sausage Party” veers away from the relentless profanity, drug use and intercourse gags, it delivers a scathing commentary on religion. Here’s a parable about the fabrication of deities to prevent folks from realizing the bleak fate that awaits them. The die-hard intolerants will do anything to ignore this info, prompting interesting discussions amongst the nonperishables and their less-enlightened edible associates. (This justifies a brief cutaway to a protester holding a “God Hates Figs” sign.)
What happens if the truth becomes evident to all? In Rogen’s universe, society descends into a massive food-on-food orgy.
So for parents planning on dumping their preteen kids off at the mall to see this cartoon: Don’t. In fact, the film’s expletive-laden red band trailer was accidentally screened before a “Finding Dory” showing at a Concord, Calif., theater, leading to a reportedly “horrified reaction” from youngsters.
Clearly this movie is not for young’uns. But who is it for, really?
The answer is a bunch of prosperous Hollywood actors who have the power to get any whacked-out project greenlit.
In many ways, Rogen remains unable to break free from his own restrictive packaging.
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”
Rated R. Time: 1:29.