Credit: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Before We Vanish by Steven Warner Film

American Sausage Standoff | Ulrich Thomsen

August 26, 2021

American Sausage Standoff is even more asinine than its title suggests.

The first question that must be asked of American Sausage Standoff has to be: what the hell, actually, is this? Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen, perhaps best known for his leading role in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration, and followed by a whole mess of leading roles in prestige Danish films, writes, directs, produces, and co-edits this woefully misbegotten tale of Midwestern American hypocrisy. It’s a film that desperately wants to be a barbed dark comedy in the vein of the Coen Brothers (or the work of contemporary Anders Thomas Jensen), but also a somber thinkpiece on Trump America, and while there’s an argument that it works as a satire, everything here is so broadly drawn that it tips into purely parodic territory, and that’s even before the opening credits roll. ASS is the type of film where grizzled voiceover narration introduces us to a story of Jesus Christ, a receding hairline, and how to unfold, courtesy of a police sheriff (Chance Kelly) who waxes philosophical on sausage. He patrols over the town of Gutterbee, a small dust bowl in the middle of nowhere, a place gasping on its last breaths. Townsfolk are leaving in droves, financial opportunities a thing of the past, leaving local bigot Jimmy Jerry Lee Jones Jr. (W. Earl Brown) in charge. Along with his son Hank (Joshua Harto), Jimmy has taken it upon himself to rid the town of any “undesirables,” which basically amounts to anyone who isn’t white and American-bred (you know the type). He soon gets a wake-up call when a German immigrant and sausage aficionado by the name of Edward Hofler (Ewen Bremner) rolls into town, sights set on opening an authentic German restaurant. It isn’t long before the two are butting heads, with Edward representing the modern-day melting pot American dream while Jimmy stands for old-fashioned, conservative American values that are approximately as hypocritical as the church over which he presides. 

Tonally, American Sausage Standoff is a mess of epic proportions. Long-winded and passionate monologues about the deeper meaning of sausage are intertwined with scenes of a naked Asian man getting tortured and forced to ride out of town on a bicycle. Elsewhere, that the religion in which Jimmy participates is entirely fabricated seems like a flimsy excuse on the part of Thomsen to escape possible criticism when it comes to his critique of specific brands of organized worship, and this is symptomatic of the problem at the heart of American Sausage Standoff: it has no real guts, which leaves its “satire” entirely neutered. Thomsen actually brings a unique perspective in that he reflects a foreign perspective, like his protagonist, yet his vision of America is painfully reductive; it often comes across as if his only knowledge of Midwestern America was gleaned from MadTV sketches. There’s also a weird strain of homophobia infecting the film that Thomsen insultingly posits as acceptance: the character of Hank, Jerry’s son, is gay, and the viewer is instructed to recoil in horror as Jerry refers to him as a “fruit-flamin’ butt-hugger,” while only moments later Thomsen presents another character’s acceptance of his own homosexuality as a joke, adorning him in stereotypically colorful garb as the local bartender automatically serves him a tropical drink embellished with umbrellas. And there’s no point in working through the deeply problematic territory of one homophobic character being anally raped by a horse, the whole thing played for laughs — brutal comeuppance as irony — nor the part where the film ends with a gay character sucking on a sausage. There’s also suicide thrown into the middle of all of the cess because, again, Thomsen lacks any sort of control over tone. 

It shouldn’t surprise to hear that American Sausage Standoff is an utter shitshow, and one for the ages at that. How Thomsen managed to rope Oscar-winning cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle into these proceedings is anyone’s guess, but the film certainly looks gorgeous, its vision of Middle America a color-corrected hallucination of bleached skies and unnatural landscapes; at least someone in this film knew what they were doing. But the next time Thomsen feels another passion project stirring within, he would be wise to head to the nearest restroom and deposit it in the precise place that American Sausage Standoff rightfully belongs.

Published as part of Before We Vanish | August 2021.