When Seth Rogen first broke out as a cinematic leading man, it was against his original comic intentions. Director Judd Apatow vetoed his more surreal movie pitches, telling him that comedy lied in simplicity; he was cast in Knocked Up based on the simple premise that it would be funny watching one of his man-baby characters getting a woman pregnant. In recent years, Rogen has got to the successful point in his career where he can now make the weird comedies he’s always dreamed of. A Charlie Kaufman-style apocalyptic stoner comedy? Check. A bromance between a reality TV producer and the “supreme leader” of North Korea? Double check.
The idea of an “adult animation” isn’t exactly a novel one; Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been causing laughs and outrage with South Park since 1997, whilst early 70’s cult classic Fritz the Cat managed to subvert all the usual animated tropes to widespread offence and immediate infamy. Sausage Party, with its clear atheist narrative and love of faux-outrageous taboo humour, clearly takes inspiration from South Park. The only thing that Rogen and his three (THREE!) credited co-screenwriters have forgotten to copy are the laughs. This is the rare Hollywood comedy that is devoid of any jokes whatsoever, hinging entirely on the assumption that seeing anthropomorphised pieces of food cursing and saying terrible puns will remain hilarious for what I can only describe as the longest 89 minutes in cinema history.
Many reviewers have declared that Sausage Party isn’t for the easily offended. The only problem is that it is trying so hard to be offensive, all it does is trigger enormous eye rolls every time it falls back on some lazy racial stereotype in the sake of laughter. There are never any jokes to back up any of these characterisations; instead, they are just introduced swearing in vaguely ethnic accents. The closest the movie gets to traditional jokes are the plethora of migraine-inducing puns, that seem so laboured, I have no idea how this was the best four screenwriters could come up with.
In an opening musical sequence, we are introduced to some Nazi sausages who want to “kill the juice”. This is not only one of the most pointless, laughter devoid puns in the history of comedy, but when the existence of this throwaway line is justified later in the film, it still feels like a pointless inclusion and remains entirely unfunny. These aren’t characters who are ever relevant to the narrative, they just give another excuse for this edge-free “edgy” humour for a couple of seconds. Rogen’s marijuana induced screenwriting style has finally gotten the best of him.
No sober person could look through the screenplay and ever think that this constituted a solid comic effort. If you don’t think that Sausage Party constituted lazy writing, why not look back at the anti-climactic ending? The film finally threatens to get interesting, before culminating in the biggest “fuck you” to a movie audience since horror movie The Devil Inside concluded by telling the audience to go to a website to see how the film ended.
Part of the problem of Sausage Party lies in the fact that it is animated. Rogen’s comedy style has frequently been criticised as lazy; but in his live action efforts, when he bounces off his regular Apatow collaborators with an improvisational looseness, he has the power to be effortlessly funny. That same looseness cannot be translated to the tightly planned animated genre – you need care and effort to craft a screenplay, because you cannot improvise in a movie that needs to hire thousands of post-production effects artists. Stripped away of the improv, all we get are characters we don’t care about speaking entirely in a “one fuck per sentence” ratio. All it did was verify that Rogen is a fantastic live action comedy performer, but cannot write to save his life. Even with three extra screenwriters by his side, there is still a gaping void where laughter should be.
Although on the one hand, it is nice to see Seth Rogen showing a level of ambition that his other peers haven’t by making a surreal animated stoner comedy, the poor quality of the animation makes this visually ugly to look at throughout. Characters are designed in inexplicable ways, with awkward references to hands, legs and (of course) sexual organs in the screenplay that make no sense, because they are inanimate fucking objects. When I’m spending a large amount of time during a dumb comedy movie overanalysing the character design, it is clear that the jokes just aren’t funny enough to sustain my interest.
There really is no excuse for the poor animation; co-director Conrad Vernon has directed a small handful of critical successes for Dreamworks, including Shrek 2 and Madagascar 3. Although these films were excellent on a visual level, the films themselves became too bogged down in “adult” jokes and pop-culture references designed to go over the heads of the younger audiences. You can understand why he would be attracted to a project where he would be able to make as many dirty wisecracks as possible, in an art form that doesn’t usually allow for anything more risqué than PG rated material. Although he doesn’t have a writing credit, the poor quality of the animation (often reminiscent of “worst kids movie ever” Foodfight!) is entirely on the head of him and his co-director, debutant Greg Tiernan.
The baffling amount of acclaim for Sausage Party is completely beyond me, especially when Rogen and his frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg have frequently been responsible for some of the funnier American films in recent memory. Surely their prior work should highlight how lazy and jarringly unfunny this is? Sausage Party appears to be written by a group of 11 year olds who have just heard curse words for the first time, but have never heard a single joke in their lives.