Unfrosted Is as Bland as It Sounds

Movies Reviews Jerry Seinfeld
Unfrosted Is as Bland as It Sounds

In between groaning that political correctness is ruining comedy and making questionable visits to Israel amid their genocide of the Palestinian people, Jerry Seinfeld sat down for a recent tell-all interview in which he remarked that the movie business is over. “Film doesn’t occupy the pinnacle in the social, cultural hierarchy that it did for most of our lives,” Seinfeld said. “When a movie came out, if it was good, we all went to see it. We all discussed it. We quoted lines and scenes we liked. Now we’re walking through a fire hose of water, just trying to see.” In a sense, it feels like he’s right. I mean, how else could the creator and star of one of the most revered sitcoms of all time be putting out a lame streaming comedy about Pop-Tarts (that no one will remember past its marketing cycle) if the film industry wasn’t already a walking corpse?

I don’t doubt Seinfeld understands the dry irony of his statements in conjunction with the release of Unfrosted, which is why his stab at the recent trend of Brand Biopics feels extra cynical. Unfrosted feels like a writer/director’s feature-length expression of “Movies are over, I’m bored, let’s throw this piece of shit out into the world, let them eat it up.” While it’s true that the movie business isn’t what it used to be, and is under constant threat of being stripped for parts by the hands of venture capital, an enormous amount of great movies are still released every year. Unfrosted is not one of them.

To give Seinfeld some credit, this thrown-together hodgepodge of half-baked bits in search of a movie seems like it was made on a lark. The world was in the deep end of the pandemic, and Seinfeld writer Spike Feresten suggested they commit to a throw-away fascination the comedian would bring up about 1960s Battle Creek, Michigan, where the Pop-Tart was invented. The two rounded up fellow Bee Movie scribes Andy Robin and Barry Marder, and soon they had something that resembled a script, though I can only assume it was the delirium of cabin fever that led to them thinking it was something worth making.

Nonetheless, the great minds at Netflix saw fit to have the project produced, and thus Seinfeld was able to make his directorial debut (and give his first live-action lead performance) in a tepid comedy about a battle between corporations to invent the now-ubiquitous toaster pastry. He stars as Bob Cabana, a fictional Kellogg’s executive who, together with the likes of CEO Edsel Kellogg III (Jim Gaffigan) and fellow suit Donna Stankowski (Melissa McCarthy), goes head-to-head with rival sugary breakfast company Post to reinvent children’s breakfast—each racing against the clock to move away from cereal and create this new, exciting goo-filled rectangle.

If there’s one apt element Seinfeld and company bring to Unfrosted, it’s that they knowingly treat it like a bunch of silly bullshit. Whatever story exists here is simply an excuse to service an assortment of recognizable comic actors participating in goofy antics revolving around the comically dramatic, occasionally life-or-death rivalry between breakfast cereal corporations. Any commitment to historical truth is brazenly disregarded, clearly aiming for a spoofing tone that lies somewhere between Mel Brooks and David Wain.

That’s not a bad idea and the crew that Unfrosted assembles seems to promise something halfway amusing. The extended cast populates the margins of the plot as heightened interpretations of real-life figures (James Marsden as “Godfather of Fitness” Jack LaLanne), cereal mascots (Kyle Mooney, Mikey Day and Drew Tarver as Snap, Crackle and Pop), or otherwise knowingly ridiculous creations to service the absurdity of the plot (Christian Slater as a threatening milkman). I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a slight chuckle out of those appearances, and once in a blue moon Unfrosted has a gag that could be classified as mildly amusing. 

The most inspired story arc belongs to Hugh Grant’s Thurl Ravenscroft, with Grant capitalizing on his recent persona of an old British actor weathered and jaded enough to agree to star as an Oompa Loompa and be in the Pop-Tarts comedy. Ravenscroft is an embittered Shakespearean actor stuck demeaning himself by working as Tony the Tiger, a man whose disillusion with Kellogg’s leaving cereal in the rearview eventually sees him leading a January 6th-style raid with his fellow mascots.

In the whole movie, that’s the only gag developed enough to have an impact. The rest of the jokes here are scattershot and random, too lethargic in their execution to stand up to the best goof-off comedies, and too lacking in point-of-view to resonate. The only thing you take away is that Seinfeld had the actors and resources to assemble this project, but not the prudence to care if it was any good. This dry approach may seem part and parcel with Seinfeld’s trademark sense of humor but in this context, it’s not wittily observational, just lazy. He seems content to let celebrity cameos and ironic ‘60s pastiche do the heavy lifting.

Moreover, any quips and banter provided by the script are suffocated by the filmmaking. Every conversation is stifled by rigid, brusquely edited shot-reverse-shots that (while typical of comedies) clumsily hold scenes together. There’s no sense of flow or rhythm from this first-time director. Every performer feels like they’re desperate for the opportunity to let loose, to break free of the scene-by-scene monotony on display. It’s rare that anyone in Unfrosted is afforded that opportunity, each person relegated to simply being a face to fill out a role that ultimately adds up to nothing more than a broad reference. 

I’m not too good to laugh at a Pop-Tarts movie. My standards are low enough to recognize a version of Unfrosted that could have been funny, one that utilizes its knowing, winking stupidity regarding its own concept to bolster an otherwise entertaining script. Instead, Seinfeld is content to coast, using his weird fascination as the launching pad for a comedy mostly there to give those involved a quick payday. It’s disappointing and bland, just like an unfrosted Pop-Tart.

Director: Jerry Seinfeld
Writers: Jerry Seinfeld, Spike Feresten, Andy Robin, Barry Marder
Starring: Jerry Seinfeld, Melissa McCarthy, Jim Gaffigan, Hugh Grant, Amy Schumer
Release Date: May 3, 2024 (Netflix)

Trace Sauveur is a writer based in Austin, TX, where he primarily contributes to The Austin Chronicle. He loves David Lynch, John Carpenter, the Fast & Furious movies, and all the same bands he listened to in high school. He is @tracesauveur on Twitter where you can allow his thoughts to contaminate your feed.

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