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  • Writer's pictureSaxon Whitehead

'Unfrosted': Jerry Seinfeld Serves Up Lackluster, Unfunny Comedy About the Creation of Pop-Tarts

Last year, we saw a handful of films about the making of various cultural items, ranging from Ben Affleck's Air, which explored the creation of Air Jordans, to Matt Johnson's BlackBerry which charted the rise and fall of one of the first ever smartphones. As is the case with most cinematic trends, it was only a matter of time before we saw a comedic take on this. Enter Jerry Seinfeld, who makes his directorial debut with Unfrosted, a film about the invention of the Pop-Tart. While it is most likely a coincidence that this film came out so close to other films that detailed the genesis of an iconic product, it is hard to not think that Seinfeld and company are poking fun at some of these more recent films. At the very least, the film does parody films that are "based on a true story" by telling the story of how the Pop-Tart was created in the most outlandish, ridiculous ways possible. It's an idea that honestly sounds rather funny on paper, but not even an all-star cast of comedians can save Unfrosted. It is overstuffed, bland, and while it has plenty of jokes and gags, very few of them actually land. There is so much that Seinfeld tries to cram in this film to try and make it work, but the final product ends up feeling stale.

In 1963, there is a rivalry in Battle Creek, Michigan between two cereal giants: Kellogg's and Post. When word gets to Kellogg's that Post is trying to create a new breakfast pastry, they snap into action to try and beat them to the punch. Bob Cabana (Jerry Seinfeld) is recruited to assemble a team to get their product made and on the shelves faster than Post, but this is easier said than done. A group of mysterious milkmen, an uprising of cereal mascots, and international control of sugar are just a few of the obstacles that Cabana and his team face, all in the hopes of winning the space race-esque battle of who can get their toaster pastry in stores first.

While watching this film, I couldn't help but think of Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. Both Unfrosted and Weird have similar tones, which was a bit of a surprise to me. I knew the film was going to be a comedy, but I was not expecting it to be as goofy as it gets. This goofiness is one of the better aspects of the film, as the weirdness of the humor yields some of the bigger laughs of the film. A particular sequence involving a funeral is probably the funniest of the film, mainly due to how absurd it is. The film throws a lot against the wall in terms of its comedy, filling it with as many jokes as it can. The problem with this approach is that only a small fraction of them actually work, and the rest are pretty weak at best. It doesn't help that it doesn't fully commit to the bit, leading to its goofier tone to come across as inconsistent. There may be a few chuckles to be had, but most of the jokes are either lazy, or are complete whiffs.

Most of the humor in the film is basically just the "Something Picasso? He won't amount to a thing." joke from Titanic over and over again. So much of it is either referencing things that will later become popular, or making odd cultural references that feel unneeded. An off-handed bit about Tang, or the inclusion of icons like Jack LaLanne or Chef Boyardee make up the most of these, but the worst bits are the ones that bring in more contemporary references. The now-viral cameo of Jon Hamm and John Slattery reprising their Mad Men roles is painfully unfunny, and a sequence where various cereal mascots have a January 6th style insurrection at Kellogg's is just horribly executed. If these things didn't make up the vast majority of the film's humor, I'd probably be more forgiving, but it leans so hard into reference humor that it gets old fast.

I'm willing to assume that Seinfeld and his writing team had the best of intentions with this film, but the script feels like a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. While his co-writers on Unfrosted are longtime collaborators, there is such a strange disconnect in both the film's humor and storytelling that it ends up feeling unfocused. At times, some of the rhythms and comedic beats of the film do feel reminiscent of those found in episodes of Seinfeld, which isn't a bad thing necessarily. Personally, I love Seinfeld and think its one of the funniest shows ever made, but it is mainly because the specific style of humor it has is so well suited to 22 minute episodes of television. When translated to a 93 minute long movie, however, it's not nearly as successful. It just makes the film feel more repetitive, and it becomes grating about 30 minutes in. The thing is, there are some ideas in this film that aren't half bad on paper, but they just don't work well in practice.

Given Jerry Seinfeld's status as a comedy legend, it's not surprising that he was able to get so many recognizable names in this film. But despite the talent of the cast, there aren't really any performances that really stood out to me as good. Most everyone is fine at best, but it is disappointing that so many people who I normally like can be in a movie and none of them leave much of an impression. Melissa McCarthy is okay, but she is given so little to work with that she kind of blends into the background. Jim Gaffigan gives one of the better performances in the film, but the material he's given undercuts it quite a bit. Even Hugh Grant, who plays Thurl Ravenscroft as Tony the Tiger feels squandered, and ended up being one of the most frustrating parts of the film to me. Some of the cameos are at least a little amusing, but it says a lot when the cameos are more memorable than any of the key performances. Jerry Seinfeld does his usual schtick in the lead role, basically just playing a version of himself. I can't fault him too much for resting on his laurels, as he isn't the most gifted actor, but he ends up being kind of bland in the film as a result. The one performance I straight up did not like was Amy Schumer, who is absolutely phoning this one in. She is ostensibly the villain in the film, and she just can't rise to the cartoonish heights that the character needs to reach. Its a deeply underwhelming performance, and her scenes are some of the worst in the film.

Given Jerry Seinfeld's background in television, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that much of the film has the look of a cheap sitcom. It gives into the overlit, flat look that most streaming comedies are opting for these days, and it isn't doing the film any favors. On top of that, Seinfeld shows some greenness in the director's chair, as the film seems to get away from him multiple times throughout. The film feels all over the place, with countless gags being slung at the viewer, and a surprising lack of a grip on much of the humor. Seinfeld's direction is clumsy at best, and his more hands-off approach makes the film feel like a collection of bad sketches as opposed to a feature length comedy. I can understand why Seinfeld would want to direct this film, given that it is based off one of his jokes, but if this film is any indication, he should probably stay away from the director's chair.

Unfrosted is unfunny, unfocused, and by the end of it, feels completely unnecessary. It starts off okay, but gradually loses all of its good will. It may be only 93 minutes, but it feels unbearably long due to how scattered and lazy it is. It is a shame that Jerry Seinfeld assembled such a great cast only to waste it on such a dull, frustrating project. There was definitely potential here, but it ultimately is a huge disappointment. I can appreciate some of the ideas that Seinfeld and crew had going into this film, but they simply do not come together even half as well as they were hoping for. There may be a couple of amusing bits, but its not enough to make up for how dire the rest of the film is. Unfrosted might attempt to be as successful as Pop-Tarts themselves, but despite its best efforts, it ends up being a major dud.

Rating: 1.5/5

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