Monday, May 20, 2024

“UNFROSTED”

THE STORYIn 1963, Kellogg’s and Post, sworn cereal rivals, race to create a pastry that will change the face of breakfast forever.

THE CASTJerry Seinfeld, Melissa McCarthy, Jim Gaffigan, Hugh Grant & Amy Schumer

THE TEAMJerry Seinfeld (Director/Writer), Spike Feresten, Andy Robin & Barry Marder

THE RUNNING TIME – 93 Minutes


Product origin stories are having a moment; last year alone, we saw films about the BlackBerry, Tetris, Air Jordans, and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos – to name a few. Primarily, those movies were based on true events and didn’t aim to satirize their respective products. However, the new Netflix Original, “Unfrosted,” aims to be totally different: a highly fictionalized parody of product-origin films. The film, which is the directorial debut of comedian Jerry Seinfeld – who also co-wrote the film and stars in the lead role – has been marketed as a loose interpretation of the invention of Pop-Tarts. According to Seinfeld, the premise comes from a stand-up bit, and former “Seinfeld” writers Spike Feresten and Andy Robin convinced him to go ahead with the project. Like “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” which is a parody of musical biopics, “Unfrosted” is essentially a parody of product origin stories, and it also tries to parody other genres. While there are some chuckles to be had, entertaining performances from the large cast, and a few memorable cameos, Seinfeld’s film is too ridiculous, cliche-ridden, and busy for its own good.

The story is centered on Bob Cabana (Seinfeld), who teams up with Kellogg CEO and company inheritor Edsel Kellogg III (Jim Gaffigan) and former employee-turned-NASA-worker Donna Stankowski (Melissa McCarthy) to create a breakfast pastry before their rivals, Post, beat them to the finish line. After Post CEO/inheritor Marjorie Post (Amy Schumer) essentially steals Kellogg’s toaster pastry research, Stankowski recruits several “taste pilots” consisting of noted supposed “geniuses” Tom Carvel (Adrian Martinez), Steve Schwinn (Jack McBrayer), Harold von Braunhut (Thomas Lennon), Chef Boyardee (Bobby Moynihan), and Jack Lalanne (James Marsden). The ragtag team’s talents aren’t helping, so Cabana, Kellogg, and Stankowski resort to other means to one-up Post. Meanwhile, a disgruntled Shakespearian actor who is the man behind Tony the Tiger (Hugh Grant) becomes fed up and incites a riot among his fellow Kellogg mascots. The Kellogg’s team also has to deal with evil milkmen, including Christian Slater’s devious Mike Diamond, and various other hurdles as they try to create the ultimate breakfast treat.

The beginning of “Unfrosted” is actually quite promising, as it opens with a boy ordering Pop-Tarts at a diner as if they are alcoholic beverages. There, he meets Seinfeld’s character, who then proceeds to tell the story of how this breakfast item came to be – but his voiceover is only used in the beginning and opening scenes. This sets the film off at a relatively fast pace, putting us into the world of 1960s America, but a highly stylized and outrageous version of it.

“Unfrosted” is Seinfeld’s first film appearance since 2007’s animated film “Bee Movie,” and his first-ever leading role in a live-action film. His performance here is more akin to a stand-up routine than to playing a character different from himself, kind of how his character on “Seinfeld” was essentially just him. That’s not to say that his performance as the somewhat narcissistic, consistently over-the-top Cabana is terrible, just that it’s nothing special. Like Seinfeld, Gaffigan is seemingly playing a version of himself that is more of a caricature than a real person (which may have been Seinfeld’s intention). Schumer’s Marjorie is similar to a cartoon villain, and that’s not a good thing. Her character is easily the most insufferable in “Unfrosted,” it doesn’t help that her line deliveries are distractingly bad. Any attempt on her part at being funny will undoubtedly be met either with blank stares or eye-rolls. While her colorful, constantly changing outfits are fun, her aggressive and/or mean actions towards her assistant (Max Greenfield) are not. For her part, McCarthy is perfectly fine, although her comedic talents aren’t used nearly as well as they could be.

The best performances from the cast are its supporting ones, including from Grant, who seems to be having fun as of late in playing quirky characters seemingly in their own little worlds. Making Tony the Tiger a serious Shakespearean actor is brilliant, and Grant’s moments onscreen are among the best in the movie. The “taste pilots” crew members are often funny, with Marsden stealing scenes, as he is wont to do. The cast is massive, and some actors who show up in blink-and-miss-it cameos (almost easier to say who isn’t in it) are essentially wasted.

“Unfrosted” biggest problem is that it tackles way too much, especially for a story that’s 93 minutes long. As a filmmaker, Seinfeld is adequate and uses only occasional directorial flourishes, but there’s nothing here to make his work all that memorable. Because the film is highly fictionalized, much of what transpires should be taken with a [large] grain of salt. Additionally, there are numerous parodies, some working better than others. One that is actually quite amusing and clever is the “Bowl & Spoon Awards,” which includes an “In Memoriam” segment for cereals lost in the past year. It helps that this occurs early enough in the film so the audience is likely not yet tired of its gimmick. Seinfeld himself has said that “Unfrosted” is meant to be like “The Right Stuff” for cereal, as evident in scenes like the one featuring the “dingus test.” However, this particular scene takes it too far, especially when it leads to death. Also, the inclusion of political events, such as JFK’s interactions with Marilyn Monroe and the Cold War, add to the general messiness of the screenplay. Perhaps what’s most infuriating is when the mascots riot where the new pastries are being certified – a clear parody of the January 6th insurrection. What starts as a fairly interesting bit quickly becomes unnecessary, distracting, and inappropriate.

For a relatively short movie, “Unfrosted” is riddled with cliches; intentional or not, they get tiresome pretty quickly. These hackneyed plot points include the hint of a forbidden romance (between the Kellogg’s and Post CEOs) and possibly needing to sleep with someone to get what you want. While the film is nowhere near as funny as Seinfeld and his team clearly intended it to be, plenty of laughable moments and lines throughout keep it from being a total dud. Some highlights include “I have been eating you for years,” “those lactose low-lives,” and the self-referential line “such a hard job, making people laugh.” There’s also a hilarious bit where NASA is practicing for the moon landing by simulating alien interactions and other recurring bits where Walter Cronkite (Kyle Dunnigan) makes off-air comments about his personal life and different gadgets when off-air. That said, the end credits bloopers are actually funnier than anything that came before it. But then, you get cringe-worthy lines like “we’ll do it raw” and other cartoonish, silly moments that probably fit in with the world as presented, but they become tiresome quickly. There are also far too many puns – often cereal-related. Christophe Beck’s score is purposefully silly and exacerbated, mimicking the intensity that you’d find in a movie that took itself more seriously. The soundtrack is 1960s-appropriate, and tunes like Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” work well when hilariously paired with the Kellogg’s folks pining after cereal.

The humor and commentary in “Unfrosted” are far from subtle; it’s an in-your-face tone that won’t please everyone and only reminds us what a gifted comedian Seinfeld can occasionally be. But, unlike a recent parody film such as “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” Seinfeld’s feature directorial debut just doesn’t stick the landing on what it sets out to achieve. It’s unclear who the target audience is and whether the film justifies its own existence. And yet, what works in the film’s favor is that it never takes itself too seriously. In that case, if that was the goal, then Seinfeld somewhat succeeded, although it still remains quite a disappointment that this was the film he wanted to tell and how he chose to tell it.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Has some genuinely funny moments. Hugh Grant is a standout. A few fun, memorable cameos. A couple of clever parodies that are amusing. A unique take on the product origin story.

THE BAD - Overstays its welcome with too many puns, cliches, and jokes that don't land. Jerry Seinfeld and Jim Gaffigan are forgettable, and Amy Schumer is actively bad. There are too many cast members, and most are wasted. Tries to tackle way too much.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 5/10

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Alyssa Christian
Alyssa Christian
Longtime cinephile and self-described movie snob who’s probably too obsessed with awards season. Also an actor, writer, flutist, and vegan.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Has some genuinely funny moments. Hugh Grant is a standout. A few fun, memorable cameos. A couple of clever parodies that are amusing. A unique take on the product origin story.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Overstays its welcome with too many puns, cliches, and jokes that don't land. Jerry Seinfeld and Jim Gaffigan are forgettable, and Amy Schumer is actively bad. There are too many cast members, and most are wasted. Tries to tackle way too much.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>5/10<br><br>"UNFROSTED"