Film reviews and more since 2009

Unfrosted (2024) review

Dir. Jerry Seinfeld

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★½

Unfrosted tells the story of how Pop-Tarts came to be with the same snickering, tongue-in-cheek tone as Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, only with a fraction of the laughs. At first, I was slightly charmed at the realization that Jerry Seinfeld’s directorial debut doesn’t take the same approach to the story of a product’s creation as last year’s Flamin’ Hot (about the creation of Cheetos) nor Air (the story of Michael Jordan’s deal with Nike).

However, Unfrosted is miles behind a movie like The Founder (about Ray Kroc hijacking McDonald’s and turning it into the mecca of franchised fast-food restaurants), and its aggressively silly, vaudevillian tone feels fit for a late-night skit, or something out of improv theater. It doesn’t come close to sustaining a 96-minute feature; its existence on Netflix is ideal because it’s the kind of movie you can quietly accept while playing on your phone.

As much as these films about American products that have taken on a life of their own are subtly trying to remind a disillusioned and increasingly broke populous that capitalism is the end-all-be-all of economic ideologies, up until Unfrosted, most of which were, at worst, watchable. Seinfeld’s film, however, tries harder than an overly competitive middle schooler in gym class to be satirical and sarcastic. In an early scene where a NASA scientist named Stan (Melissa McCarthy) encourages Seinfeld’s Bob Cabana to try her new orange-flavored drink she’s hoping will be consumed by astronauts, he sips and remarks, “it has a certain tang to it.” If you cringe at that, be prepared for an hour-and-a-half of jokes so redundant and on-the-nose.

Unfrosted is told from the point-of-view of Kellogg’s, with Bob Cabana, the company’s head of development, desperately trying to come up with a product that will bury their competitor, Post, run by Marjorie Post (Amy Schumer). Post is tired of being the Burger King to Kellogg’s McDonald’s. But at the Bowl and Cereal Awards, the Oscars for breakfast foods, Post can’t help but smile watching Kellogg’s clean house like the janitor who allegedly invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos at Frito Lay. They’ve got something up their sleeves.

To make an overlong movie filled with too-many-sketch-comedy-skits short, Marjorie Post gets her hands on Cabana’s research for a breakfast pastry that essentially puts jelly between two rectangular slabs of pie-crust that can be toasted or eaten out of the package. Post believes this is the product that will bury Kellogg’s, but such deception doesn’t stop their rivals. Cabana assembles a wacky dream-team comprised of Stan, Edsel Kellogg III (Jim Gaffigan), ice-cream mogul Tom Carvel (Adrian Martinez), Chef Boyardee (Bobby Moynihan), and others in hopes of getting their toaster pastries to market before Post.

Not since Movie 43 has a comedy had this much talent on screen only to produce so few laughs.

The writing team of Seinfeld, Spike Feresten, Andy Robin, and Barry Marder get no points off for trying to make this a light-hearted, comically potent story. The problem is they try too had, consistently. Seinfeld looks like he can barely contain his laughter reciting some of his dad-joke-esque lines. Schumer is toothless as the story’s villain, and not even Hugh Grant as Thurl Ravenscroft, an aspiring Shakespearian thespian cast as Frosted Flakes mascot Tony the Tiger, leaves much of an impact.

Like most comedies that have a deep roster of talent and throw everything at the wall in hopes something will stick and merit a chuckle, Unfrosted does have a few funny moments. One of which is Bill Burr as John F. Kennedy, who of course makes a thinly veiled Marilyn Monroe joke and gets a visit from the Doublemint Twins. There’s also Kyle Dunnigan as legendary TV newsman Walter Cronkite. During the commercial breaks of his broadcast, Cronkite engages in a fad toy of the time (IE: the WHEE-LO) while mumbling to the director about his rocky home-life. The way Cronkite and Silly Putty play a significant role in Pop-Tarts’ launch is amusing, but Dunnigan sells it by imitating the anchor’s deadpan delivery.

If you combine the length of time Burr’s Kennedy and Dunnigan’s Cronkite spend on screen, you maybe get seven minutes of humor. It’s more laughs than the trifecta of Seinfeld, McCarthy, and Gaffigan produce as a comedic unit. The film is in such a hurry to get to the next larger set-piece, be it involving “organized milk,” a Pablo Escobar-like “sugar lord,” or a sequence of Kellogg’s mascots storming the company’s headquarters ala the insurrection, that it misses the opportunity to revel in smaller bits where elements like wit and timing must come into play.

In order for satire to be successful, one must be able to discern what it’s trying to say about the thing being satirized. It’s never clear exactly how Seinfeld and company feel about Pop-Tarts, or what message they’re trying to convey by doing a sendup of its origins. They could be mocking a snack that felt like a relic of the 1950s and was bolstered by an aggressive marketing campaign. It could also be unironically praising the creation of something so delicious that has since spawned dozens upon dozens of variants, limited edition flavors, and even coming full circle in spawning its own cereal. You wouldn’t be able to guess, likely because Seinfeld had so many ideas and wanted to bring every goofy skit idea he had about the pastry to life.

On a final note, there was a great episode of the underrated History Channel show The Food That Built America that dramatized the heated rivalry between Kellogg’s and Post, as well as the development and production of Pop-Tarts. There’s significantly more entertainment value to be had in that episode in a shorter amount of time, and you come out learning a little something about Pop-Tarts as a result. It would make for better office banter than the empty calories afforded by Unfrosted.

NOTE: Unfrosted is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.

Starring: Jerry Seinfeld, Melissa McCarthy, Jim Gaffigan, Amy Schumer, Hugh Grant, Max Greenfield, Christian Slater, Peter Dinklage, Bill Burr, Kevin Dunnigan, Adrian Martinez, Bobby Moynihan, James Marsden, Mikey Day, Kyle Mooney, Drew Tarver, Dan Levy, and Tony Hale. Directed by: Jerry Seinfeld.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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