-A juvenile animated comedy and an overambitious technological thriller.

The first R-rated CGI-animated film comes to us from two of the biggest comedy writers/producers of our era: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, collaborators on films such as Superbad, Pineapple Express, This is the End, and The Night Before. 

While I don’t particularly love all of those titles, in fact, I find some of Rogen’s comedy to be pretty reprehensible, it’s hard not to find moments, or occasionally entire films, that are worth re-watching during his career as both a writer and an actor. Although critical reception may point to this being one of the successes of his growing filmography, my viewing of Sausage Party was met with a bit of a harsher eye. In truth, it feels a bit juvenile, a bit heavy-handed, and a bit too spacious between each laugh to really recommend.

The story focuses on a “Shopwell” food store, where each individual food is personified with their own animated style and personality. They all want to get picked by the humans they perceive as gods, to head out of the store and into “the great beyond.” Obviously, as we food consumers know, there’s no great beyond for the sausages and bagels, only consumption.

When his friends are taken, a lone sausage (Seth Rogen) and his hot-dog bun girlfriend (Kristen Wiig) set off with Sammy Bagel Jr (Edward Norton) and Kareem Lavash (David Krumholtz) to discover the truth, learning the farce of “the great beyond” by the wise “unperishables,” foods that predate all of the foods still in the store that have slipped between the cracks. Among them are Craig Robinson as Mr. Grits and Bill Hader as Firewater, avoiding the nasty glare of their geeky store manager (Paul Rudd) and the evil Douche (Nick Kroll). Other actors in Rogen’s troop like Jonah Hill, James Franco, Danny McBride, and the unrelated but somehow in this movie Selma Hayek make appearances.

The first thing that this movie seems to prioritize is the heavy-handed look at religion. Every food corresponds to the associated religion of its ethnic background, so Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all at odds with each other while the atheist tries to prove his point. It’s just so obvious what the mostly left-wing film was trying to say, but it doesn’t change the fact that the subtext didn’t really work in a film about cursing sausages. That brings us to the second thing for the film to hang it’s hat on: the swearing.

The swearing, and dialogue as a whole, is a big problem. While the novelty of cartoons cursing and saying sexual things has been debunked and dated by South Park and Family Guy, it seems that Sausage Party was left behind. By relying on shock value to bring the heat on the comedy, many jokes fall flat because we’ve heard them before.

When the religious subtext feels unneeded and almost too mediocre in its outlook, the juvenile comedy has an even harder time to land. Overall, Sausage Party is not the kind of film that I would recommend. It just seems so lazy.

 

2 stars

Sausage Party (2016)

Genre: Comedy

Director: Greg Tiernan/Conrad Vernon (Shrek 2, Monsters v. Aliens, Madagascar 3)

Starring: 

Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera, Edward Norton, and Selma Hayek

with: Jonah Hill, James Franco, Paul Rudd, Nick Kroll, David Krumholtz,

Bill Hader, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson

RT Score: 82%


 

While Nerve may have gotten average reviews from critics, it seemed necessary to see it late because the concept is so interesting. Considering we’re in a world that allowed Pokemon GO to take over everyone’s lives for about three weeks, the concept of a dare game where you earn points or money by responding to messages on the screen isn’t all that surprising. Mix that with some hard-nosed attacks at surveillance and you get a fun little thriller that doesn’t really lose traction until the third act.

“Nerve” is an app where participators sign up as either a ‘player’ or a ‘watcher.’ Players are presented with dares from the Watchers that they want to see, and the crazier the dare is, the more money and viewership the players get once they complete it. Obviously, more people would want to tune into someone tightrope-walking across building tops instead of just kissing a random person at a party; I’m sure you understand the mechanism. Although heavy-handed, the film also mentions that the game gives dares conducive to their personalities and location, but it also has a lot to say about how the game’s installment on your phone/computer gives them access to much of your personal information. Although the finale makes the film’s message about privacy very unsophisticated, the overall process of the movie is greater than that.

Our lead is Emma Roberts’ Venus, a socially introverted young woman who is basically blackmailed into joining the game after having a falling out with her friend Sydney (Emily Meade). Although warned by her tech-saavy class partner Tommy (Miles Heizer), ‘Vee’ decides to go for it, and begins to get tons of followers when she teams up with a stranger named Ian (Dave Franco) who appears to have no background information at all. Although fully aware of the negative implications that this game could have, Vee is seduced by the fame and the monetary awards associated; the film then follows her and Ian’s quest deeper and deeper into the game.

The film’s main flaw relates to the conclusion, where after an hour and twenty minutes of solid stunts and intrigue regarding the game, we are left with a showdown that feels rushed and inconsequential. Add in a fast-paced ridiculous hacking scene and a few gunshots, and we’re left in a daze after the strange directions that the film tries to lead us down. Part of this is due to an inability to solve a film like this without a final “showdown” in the third act, but it’s expedited and made worse by the fact that there’s no real villain. We understand that the creators of the game have implicated our privacy rights and have created a destructive environment that we humans can’t avoid because of the aforementioned intrigue of such a game, but without a villain in the backdrop, the third act settlement feels that much more unearned.

Before that, however, is a solid set up, followed by a pristinely paced, beautifully directed second act where Vee and Ian work their way up the game’s leaderboard. The more viewers a player gets, the more experienced dares they get. The more experienced dares they get, the more viewers and money they receive. Once they have the viewers, they can stay alive as some of their other competition folds. By the end, the winning person really is the player with the stomach to do the worst dares without failing. In real life, most of these would probably be sexual (if we’re being honest for how people on the internet really are) but this movie had to be PG-13 to get to the teen market who could appreciate it, so there aren’t any scenes of awful sexual tension.

For the sake of discussion, I would like to put in my “Emma Roberts is underrated” card, because again, she does really solid work in this. Dave Franco is as solid as he’s ever been in a movie, and this probably is his best work, but Roberts has had other hits in her career, and this should count as another one. After stealing the show in the excellent, but overlooked, California drama Palo Alto, she starred in some Ryan Murphy television, carrying the inconsistent “Scream Queens” to a decent quality, and almost saving “American Horror Story: Coven” from complete collapse. She also was fine in We’re the Millers and I Am Michael, which leads me to believe that she only needs a chance to shine. She does well here, and I hope she gets another lead role soon.

In terms of the most positive thing within the film, the dares rely on the stunt work, and a few of the chase sequences and stolen merchandise sequences that are hinted at in the trailer really worked. There really is a half hour block of this movie that is completely awesome, and we, as viewers, should enjoy it because a game like this is not that exaggerated compared to what young adults would actually do today to get famous. It was suspenseful and fun, which is really all it needs to be before falling apart in the third act.

 

3 stars

Nerve (2016)

Genre: Crime/Thriller

Director: Henry Joost/Ariel Schulman (Paranormal Activity 3+4, “Catfish”)

Starring: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade, Miles Heizer, and Juliette Lewis

RT Score: 60%

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