Judge Dennis Prince peels back the layers of this potentially misunderstood satire and finds it still stinks.
"The Internet went down for three hours today, plunging the nation into…productivity."
If that quip gives you a chuckle, stop now and quit while you're ahead.
What is The Onion Movie? Is it a hard-hitting, pull-no-punches journalistic foray into the challenges of the modern day? Is it a fair and balanced account of global events and trends most concerning to citizens around the globe? Is it the overdue comeuppance deserved of those cultural assassins who regularly mock and malign the American way of life? Or is it just a crappy outing that stretches marginally humorous material to a point where it can only hope to find an audience in direct-to-video desperation?
Yeah, that's The Onion Movie.
The Onion has enjoyed a successful run of delivering stinging social and political satire, initially as a collegiate-produced newspaper dating back to 1988 and later emerging as a buzzing website in 1996. As the Internet Age came into its own (and largely bestowed a plethora of fodder by way of its own emergence and excesses), the Onion continued to grow its empire of parody, eventually setting its sights on a film version of its jeering journalistic purpose. That film, however, spent an embarrassing five years in limbo, the result of poor concept, lack of ownership, and Onion management upheaval. That's right—all the things the bogus news bureau itself relished in skewering.
Originally filmed in 2003, The Onion Movie suffered such lowly test screening scores that the project was shelved at Fox Searchlight Pictures until 2007 when new material was filmed and added to the mix. The result: more of the same. Although hopeful that more material could freshen up this Onion, matters seemed to go from bad to worse, ultimately forcing Fox to exercise its option of releasing direct to DVD, which it did on June 3, 2008. The release was greeted with a yawn.
It's not that the elements of the film were entirely at fault, a conglomeration of off-color skits with a pasted on newsroom narrative wraparound. No, the trouble is that the original concept was doomed for lack of solid material from which to build. What you'll find here appears to be the best haul possible from back alley dumpsters of Saturday Night Live, Mad TV, and The Chapelle Show. It would love to be as raw and edgy as South Park or an unrated version of Robot Chicken, but all it can do is aspire to such out of reach acknowledgement. What you get, then, are a string of overworked and overplayed sketches including Stephen Segal as the feared "Cockpuncher" (yes, he punches other men's…ahem…like the name says), a group of twentysomethings gathering for a fun-filled game of "Who is the Rapist?," and an uninspired lampooning of the boring exploits of Britney Spears (characterized here as the sexually overt yet perpetually denying Melissa Cherry). The skits are rife with the sort of hyper-sophomoric approach that can't competently handle topics such as terrorism, racism, corporate greed, and sexual stereotyping. Not to say that any of the polarizing subjects are necessarily funny but, if handled with an appropriate intellect that can discern true satire from plain bad taste, there could be some potently humorous content here. In the hands of the folks who cobbled together this junior high gym room junk, The Onion Movie proves why it has been such a failed project from inception. Wrapped around the disjointed vignettes is a pale plot that has Onion News Network (ONN) anchor Norm Archer (Len Cariou, Flags of Our Fathers) outraged that his newscasts of scintillating stories (those would be the skits) are being upstaged by persistent on-screen crawlers and overlays that promote the new corporate owner of ONN, Global Tetrahedron.
Should you accidentally find this disc made its way into your Netflix queue, you'll see it's presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen format, the image quality looking better that the content it represents. The audio comes by way of a Dolby Digital 5.1 English track, a waste since there's nothing of interest to fill even a cut-rate Mono 1.0 mix. Special features include nine minutes of deleted scenes (why, oh why, couldn't more have been deleted) and three minutes of unfunny outtakes.
At the end of it all, perhaps newscaster Archer sums up everyone's dismay at this dissonant mess: "For the Onion News, this is Norm Archer. F*** you, and good night."
With that, the viewer exhales in relief that it's finally over.
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