The Onion Movie: A fun collection faux news segments

posted 3/9/09 on 2009: A Film Odyssey

Since its founding in 1988, The Onion has entertained the American public with its hard-hitting satire of current events. The print and online publication has long been one of the driving forces of “fake news.” And due to this decade’s success of fake TV newsmen Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, I guess they figured it was time they made a screen debut of their own with The Onion Movie. Couldn’t hurt, right?

But why has seemingly no one watched this movie — not even enough critics for it to receive a RottenTomatoes rating? Did its direct-to-DVD format ruin it? Did they lose steam over the course of filming? Is it simply not that funny?


THE FILM

The folks at the Onion began adapting their pseudo-journalistic antics to the screen in 2003 with help from a large cast (including Steven Seagal and the late Rodney Dangerfield) and two Onion writers (including Robert Siegel, former Editor-in-Chief and screenwriter for The Wrestler). The result is a hilarious mish-mash of satirical news sketches and an absurd take-off on Sidney Lumet’s already absurd Network (1976).

The film, like the newspaper, makes fun of different quirks of American society indiscriminately. You have gun rights activists hailing the death of an eight-year-old boy in a firearms accident as proof that their Second Amendment rights are in tact; a sex-obsessed pop star a la Britney Spears feigning innocence despite her suggestive lyrics and music video choreography; a college anti-war activist hired by the UN to spread world peace one bong hit at a time; and even film critics debating the artistic and cultural value of the movie — right in the middle of the movie!

The writers take jabs at racists and at advocacy groups; the “masses” and the snobs who patronize them. No subject is taboo, and no one is beyond criticism.

I don’t think film critics are beyond criticizing themselves (or at least I hope they aren’t), so my guess is that the movie’s kitchen sink approach to comedy is what displeased them. Volunteers who sat in on early screen tests and disapproved probably thought the rapidfire succession of unrelated topics without a defining connection was more suited for TV.

I suppose that might be a valid reason why The Onion Movie didn’t win any Oscars, but come on. If the American public is willing to support a slew of crappy spoofs in the vein of Epic Movie, they ought to give at least one movie about “America’s Finest News Source” a chance.


SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Deleted scenes that were mostly good enough to put in the movie. Come to think of it, why weren’t they? The run time is only 80 minutes.
  • Outtakes that were not all that funny. (When have movie outtakes ever been funny?)


HIGHLIGHTS

My favorite part is about a robber masked with a nylon stocking who holds a bank clerk at gunpoint — not for money but for a job (a prophetic segment given the current rate of job loss). His rationale? Bags full of money can only help him in the short-term; he needs a steady career to teach him the value of hard work and responsibility. Despite his colorful speech and insistence on wearing the mask, he’s a fast learner, and he earns a promotion and his own office (complete with a name plate, which reads “Armed Gunman”).


LOWLIGHTS

Some people will be turned off by The Onion Movie’s crude humor. Those people are lame.

Others might not feel engaged by its intentionally non-narrative structure.


VERDICT

Saturday Night Live isn’t funny anymore, and MADtv is dead, so you might as well watch this. In my opinion, it’s bolder and funnier than anything either of those shows have come up with in years, partly because it doesn’t have to face the creativity-stunting wrath of television censors.


STATS

  • Not scored on RottenTomatoes (not enough reviews)
  • Running time: 80 minutes
  • Unrated


COMING TO A BLOG NEAR YOU

I will review a film honoring an innovator many journalists and aspiring writers have admired for decades: Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson. It’s a documentary narrated by — you guessed it — Johnny Depp.