‘Unfrosted’ Review: Jerry Seinfeld’s Netflix Comedy Takes the Art Out of Pop-Tarts

Melissa McCarthy and Amy Schumer co-star in a flavorless product placement spoof

Jerry Seinfeld makes his directorial debut in "Unfrosted"
Jerry Seinfeld makes his directorial debut in "Unfrosted" (CREDIT: Netflix)

Jerry Seinfeld’s new comedy “Unfrosted” is an impressive film. It’s not a good film, and it’s not a funny film, but if you watch the first three hours on Netflix and then pause it, you’ll find that somehow only one hour has passed. And that is pretty impressive, in a boring way.

“Unfrosted” stars Seinfeld, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay, as Bob Cabana, a fictional executive at the Kellogg Company in the 1960s. Kellogg’s biggest breakfast cereal competitor, Post, is about to crack the formula on a game-changing hot toaster treat and it’s up to Cabana and his associate, Donna Stankowski (Melissa McCarthy), to beat them to the punch and invent the “Pop Tart.”

The competition escalates quickly. The dairy industry threatens Cabana with violence for cutting milk out of American breakfasts. Marjorie Post (Amy Schumer) makes a deal with Nikita Khrushchev (Dean Norris) to import sugar from Russia, which kicks off the Cuban Missile Crisis. Meanwhile, Kellogg’s hires an all-star team of “Taste Pilots,” including Chef Boy Ardee (Bobby Moynihan), Jack Lalanne (James Marsden) and Sea Monkeys creator Harold von Braunhut (Thomas Lennon), whose real-life connections to white supremacist groups are equated here to America enlisting Nazi scientists in Operation Paper Clip.

That right there might have been a scathing piece of satire if “Unfrosted” had any bite to it. Instead the script just gives von Braunhut a subplot about making a Sea Monkey/Ravioli creature which has nothing to do with anything, isn’t amusing, and just pads the time. (John Harvey Kellogg’s well-documented history with eugenics also goes conspicuously unmentioned.)

“Unfrosted” is the latest in an increasingly long line of films that mythologize corporate products, like “Tetris” and “Air” and “Flamin’ Hot.” It’s a self-serious and often condescending subgenre that’s ripe for parody. Jerry Seinfeld doesn’t seem to think this type of story is worth telling, and unfortunately the movie he’s made proves his point. There are a lot of hackneyed clichés and tacky melodrama at the heart of most these films but while “Unfrosted” clearly conveys that the origin of the Pop-Tart is a ridiculous concept, it doesn’t convey why, and that leaves its comedy toothless and un-filling.

If you thought Jerry Seinfeld’s funniest moments were in his American Express ads, then “Unfrosted” is the film for you. The detached and generic jokes all play out with a bright, rhythmless conformity. There’s a non-stop cavalcade of celebrity cameos which aren’t funny because for the most part, the whole joke is that they’re celebrity cameos. The humor is thuddingly blunt and the punchlines constantly call attention to themselves, which robs them of their punch. There’s a scene where Jerry Seinfeld’s bathrobe is accidentally blown off but apparently the gag wasn’t obvious enough so there’s also a reaction shot from a plastic squirrel. Please laugh.

Still, you can’t make a movie with this many talented comedians and this many jokes without at least some of them working. There’s a funeral scene where the grave is filled with cereal and milk while Toucan Sam sings “Ave Maria,” and that’s weird enough to earn a chuckle. Hugh Grant has the film’s only consistently funny subplot as Thurl Ravenscroft, the real-life voice of Tony the Tiger and one of the great voice actors of his generation. He rallies his fellow mascots to boycott Kellogg’s but even that gets derailed when Seinfeld decides to equate the SAG and WGA strikes with the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt, which is a huge stretch and doesn’t seem to have any real comment behind it. It falls almost as flat as the sight gag that reminds you of the Challenger explosion.

It’s hard to get mad at a movie as insipid as “Unfrosted,” but “Unfrosted” makes it possible. It’s a few funny jokes sprinkled across a giant, flavorless crust. It’s a spoof that doesn’t give a damn about what it’s spoofing. It just doesn’t pop.

“Unfrosted” is streaming exclusively on Netflix on May 3.


3 responses to “‘Unfrosted’ Review: Jerry Seinfeld’s Netflix Comedy Takes the Art Out of Pop-Tarts”

  1. bobbobberts Avatar

    Bang on review.   I thought this movie was boring and unfunny, as you say: “thuddingly blunt and the punchlines constantly call attention to themselves, which robs them of their punch.”   But, it’s also deeply smug and self-satisfied, trying to pull off that cynical middle brow comedy trick of “making a joke seem clever enough for the audience to get it, so they think they’re clever too.”  And then stacking those bits repeatedly nonstop hoping to get a laugh.  It get it.  But I didn’t laugh.  In the words of a better parody: it’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.  This movie was just stupid.   

  2. Hanover Fist Avatar
    Hanover Fist

    With gags about wet vag and cocaine, the flick still flopped.

    1. Pierre Brodeur Avatar
      Pierre Brodeur

      I have to agree with you. Most of the jokes fell way flat. And I love both yayo and vagine.

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