Saturday, 22 June 2024

‘Unfrosted’ silly spoof of loopy cereal industry intrigue


Jerry Seinfeld, best known for his eponymous long-running television series, is a man of many talents, including stand-up comedian, writer, actor, and producer. Now he can add director to his list of accomplishments with “Unfrosted.”

His popular series “Seinfeld,” which was a fictionalized version of himself and his personal relationship with three of his friends, was often described as “a show about nothing,” which the star and co-creator with Larry David presumably disagreed was an inaccurate depiction.

Netflix’s “Unfrosted,” written by Seinfeld and a team of collaborators, is also the directorial debut of a talented man who would like his film to be about something, which is a highly dramatized account of the phenomenon of a cereal war breaking out in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Longer than anyone can remember, the Midwest city has been the home of breakfast food titans Kellogg’s and Post. The year is 1963 and the two rivals are scrambling for a new product that could be considerably more revolutionary than just milk and corn flakes.

What possessed Jerry Seinfeld to come up with a project that is undeniably nostalgic for the early years of the 1960s when breakfast cereal reigned supreme and John F. Kennedy was president? Maybe it can be traced to his unabashed love for a bowl of processed grains shown regularly on his TV series.

Keep in mind that some of the characters are based on real persons, while others are fashioned out of whole cloth for comedic effect. Marjorie Post (portrayed by Amy Schumer) inherited the namesake company after the death of her father.

Jim Gaffigan’s Edsel Kellogg III is a buffoonish creation, which is apparent only minutes into the movie when seen in his office stumbling on an item in the newspaper and proclaiming, “Ooh. Vietnam. That sounds like a good idea.”

Seinfeld’s Bob Cabana is a Kellogg’s marketing executive who acquires inspiration from a pair of dumpster-diving kids that discover the tasty possibility of discarded test products. Hence, the concept of the Pop-Tart takes shape, and a full-blown race for a new breakfast pastry ensues.

That Kellogg’s is initially the top dog in the business is illustrated at the annual Bowl & Spoon Awards show, where Cedric the Entertainer’s ebullient host Stu Smiley hands out trophies for the winner of categories like “Easiest to Open Wax Bag” and “Best New Cereal Box Character.”

On a night that every single award is snagged by Kellogg’s, Marjorie Post and her table party are having a raucous good time, leading to the question of why they are smiling, and Cabana notes that they would “be happy if we were dragged through the streets like Mussolini.”

To feel how absurd the comedy is, look no further than Hugh Grant’s Thurl Ravenscroft, a Shakespearean actor relegated to being Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger in TV ads, and who leads other cartoon characters in a siege of the company headquarters as if it were a full-blown insurrection.

Melissa McCarthy’s Donna Stankowski is lured back to Kellogg’s from her job as a NASA scientist working on food products for astronauts after Bob Cabana dismisses the idea of a mission to the moon.

That the film plays loose on factual accuracy would be caught by a sharp eye of the smallest details in observing a Mustang convertible parked on a street. The first Mustang was the 1964-1/2 model, which according to anyone's math would be a year later than the setting of 1963.

Even more out of tune with the era is the soundtrack that includes singer-songwriter Norman Greenbaum’s hit single “Spirit in the Sky,” that was released in an album of the same name in 1969, which brings it closer to the moon landing.

Doing double duty as Walter Cronkite and Johnny Carson, Kyle Dunnigan portrays the legendary anchor for CBS Evening News as a dimwit for comedic effect, but his impersonation of the late-night TV show host is amusingly uncanny.

Much funnier is when Jon Hamm and John Slattery of “Mad Men” fame, Madison Avenue ad men, pitch an inappropriately provocative “Jelle Jolie” brand illustrated by a sensual pinup girl.

Humor is attempted in the oddest places by dragging in political figures like Nikita Kruschev (Dean Norris) being pitched Borscht Loops cereal so that Post can get sugar from Cuba.

The Kellogg’s folks meet comedian Bill Burr’s JFK, who’s upset that Post is working with the Russians. The President suggests a cereal named Jackie O’s so that he may be out of the doghouse for Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to him.

Looking at the upside to “Unfrosted” is a calculated appraisal of its comedic value, which in large measure relies more on the supporting characters than what Jerry Seinfeld brings to the table.

“Unfrosted” arrives with a mixed bag of critical acclaim, but one should keep in mind that the story is a ridiculously unserious piece of business, and yet there’s plenty of humor to enjoy as long as you can indulge a nostalgic journey dipping into farcical nonsense.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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