The Onion Movie / Phillip Stephens
Film Reviews | June 19, 2008 | Comments ()
Like most people with a working cerebrum, I love The Onion, one of the finest sources of modern satire in or out of print. The publication seems to perfectly capture the best elements of parody using the one-two punch of lowbrow vulgarity with well-informed, elaborate writing. Given the paper’s nearly 700,000 print circulation and its internet popularity, it’s obvious that plenty feel the same … which is why The Onion Movie is such a shrieking disappointment. It’s bad. And I mean … Seltzer and Friedberg bad. Were this a piece of standalone filth it would be easy to dispose of and get on with our lives, but The Onion Movie tarnishes by association, mucking the names of several Onion staffers by affiliating them with a film one might charitably describe as celluloid crossed with the smell of anus.
Apparently production of The Onion Movie was an unmitigated disasterbacle. Fox Searchlight had teamed up with Onion writers Robert Siegel and Todd Hanson to produce a film in 2003. The project stalled for the next four years, eventually dumped by the studio and directors due to delays and the publication’s increased discomfort with the material. Transcribing the disparate comedy stylings of a fake tabloid into film was proving harder than anticipated, and The Onion all but walked away from the whole affair. Mr. Show writer Scott Aukerman was hired to shore up the existing material, which was unceremoniously shat onto video by Fox Home Entertainment in an effort to be rid of this patchwork turd of a movie.
So, it should be no surprise that the film is an abomination unto God. The primary appeal of The Onion lies in the brutal lampooning of the truisms that exist in newsprint culture. The headline “Drugs Win Drug War” is funny in and of itself, but not when distilled into a four or five-minute comedy sketch. The premise of The Onion Film is exactly that, taking multiple well-known articles and extending them into live-action farce, exactly the format it doesn’t work in. The result is something like Kentucky Fried Movie if that film was populated by misfiring jokes and directed by Josef Mingele.
The film’s myriad sketches are bound together by a sort-of plot involving anchorman Norm Archer’s (Len Cariou) frustration with his news organization’s encroaching corporate takeover. The newsroom setting provides a convenient launching ground for the sketches based on Onion articles, but otherwise this paltry attempt at narrative cogency serves no function, though cogency should be the least of our worries when the jokes are as funny as dick cancer.
Even the jokes that do manage to work, such as the fake trailer for a Steven Seagal film entitled “Cockpuncher” are belabored. Not five minutes after this mildly amusing skit, the film treats us to a bunch of dipshits sitting on a couch watching it and murmuring “That’s badass.” Oh, so they were making fun of stupid people who like action clichés and the clichés themselves! The Onion Movie kills its own gags and then teabags the carcass.
I hope this nightmare convinces The Onion to steer clear of future dalliances in feature-length media. Most of the problem was clearly one of translation — print-based parody doesn’t work in live-action without major adjustments, and the staff obviously didn’t have enough control or involvement to hone the gags into something coherent or funny. As it is, the only poor sods who might stand to laugh at this drivel are the ones who have never even heard of The Onion.
Phillip Stephens is the lead critic and book editor for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR, and wastes his twenties in grad school(s).