Just a few hours before sitting down to write this review, I told a friend that I am writing a review for The Onion Movie. He turned and said to me, "The Onion Movie? As in the newspaper, The Onion?" I said, "Yes, the very same Onion," to which he responded, "They do movies? What's it about?" The only response I could give was, "Exactly," because it is a damn good question.
If you're a fan of The Onion like I am, you will go into this movie expecting 80-to-90 minutes of top notch, zany and edgy humor. The way they're able to construct laugh-out-loud stories in their podcasts and newspaper on a consistent basis you would expect a funny movie to be something they could do with their eyes closed, both hands tied behind their backs, with a pack of wild wolves gnawing at their feet as babies scream for their attention. However, the main problem with The Onion Movie is the fact that the main plotline is essentially secondary to their attempt to make you laugh through a series of skits, commercials and fake news stories.
All of this stuff making fun of (sort of) timely current events and public figures is loosely wrapped around something they seem to believe is a story about their lead anchor Norm Archer (Len Cariou) getting angry after being asked to compromise his journalistic integrity to please a new corporate sponsor. Yes, there are two or three instances where Archer voices his displeasure to the execs about a penguin walking across the screen promoting the new Steven Seagal flick, “Cockpuncher,” and how the newscast is turning The Onion into a bunch of “commercial whores” because he has to work these corporate plugs into his newscast rather than talk about the “actual news,” which is basically a story about the Iraq war (although they used some made up country name). This is about all there is to the storyline. The rest of the film seems to try to tie some of the skits in to one another but, in the end, doesn’t create a cohesive story. It’s really just an attempt to stretch their fake news headlines into a movie, and it doesn’t quite work.
The Onion Movie is not devoid of humor, however. In fact, there are some very funny moments in the film, outside of seeing Seagal as an action hero whose finishing move is a hard, swift punch to the groin. There is an excellent fake news story for neckbelts in cars causing violent decapitations, and another about all smokers now being shoved into one room in Idaho. There is a cameo by Michael Bolton in a commercial for the "What About the Children" Foundation, where he pushes for people to adopt third world country children and give them something to live for (like a nice suburban home in the middle of an African village and a holier-than-thou attitude toward the other villagers).
There is also a great sequence where they interview Melissa Cherry (Sarah McElligot), a Britney Spears-like pop star (prior to the whole pregnant, head-shaving, looney bin thing), who denies having sexually explicit lyrics, despite one of her songs being called, “Take Me From Behind,” and a video where a doll... well, takes her from behind. There are other funny commercials like the one for Kostman’s: The Penis People, a company that helps get your penis unstuck from drop boxes at libraries and video stores, or the skit of the new Clue-like board game that uses rape instead of murder. It is edgy humor and some of it will make you laugh, which is fine, but it never feels like an actual movie with something to pay attention to. It’s like watching one of the Jackass movies – you laugh, you cringe, you gasp in disbelief hoping that it all leads to something you haven’t seen before. Then, it ends and not only are you searching for the reason you wasted your money, you feel like you’ve been punched by the Cockpuncher.
I think writers Todd Hanson and Robert D. Siegel (both Onion vets) had good intentions while writing this movie (although, their humor is, at times, a bit childish and dirty rather than sophisticated and witty), but their vision had to be better than what was produced. The movie is a series of vignettes that are better suited for a Saturday Night Live type program than a feature film. The fact that this is not a great movie is not as disappointing as the fact that this film has been complete since 2003. In all this time, the best The Onion Movie could do is a direct-to-DVD release for a movie that has no story. It’s like wanting a hamburger with onions for dinner and you will not settle for anything else. So, you make the patties and season them to your liking before grilling. You go over to the refrigerator and pull out an onion, cut into it and find that it’s black and disgusting in the center - plus, it’s not making you tear like a fresh onion does. You continue to look at the onion and, sure, the outer layers look edible, but after seeing what was at the heart of the onion, you’re not sure if you want to risk it, because once the core, the very center, the heart and soul of the onion, is a little rotten the rest probably isn’t worth risking food poisoning over. So, you go with relish instead.
When I was about 8-years-old or so, my family took one of our many trips to Disney World. I really wanted to go this one particular time, because I believed I was tall enough to finally ride Space Mountain. It was one of those things that gave me a sense of accomplishment, being tall enough to ride a roller coaster (hey, I’m short, it’s fun to feel tall sometimes). Anyway, it was the one ride I had to go on and it was the first attraction I made my family go to see. I didn’t care about Mickey, Minnie, Donald or Goofy. I just wanted to ride Space Mountain. When I got to the ride, it was closed for construction. It was so disappointing. The good news is, I got to ride Space Mountain the next day. The bad news is, the special features for The Onion Movie give that same feeling of disappointment and wind up being pretty lame after all that wait.
There are two features for The Onion Movie – one is almost 10 minutes of deleted scenes, while the other is a 3 minute and 15 second outtake reel. Both features, like the movie, are highly disappointing. The deleted scenes are extensions or alternate versions of scenes already in the movie. If you take the time to watch these scenes, you will see why they are called “deleted scenes.” The first scene they show, one that was actually kind of funny in the movie, revolves around reporter Kip Kendell (Scott Klace) interviewing Melissa Cherry and asking her about her “sexual” lyrics. Because what he said is so filthy, and kids might read this, I am only going to tell you that the song is about “friendship,” not a sopping wet, teenage (insert part of the female anatomy – it’s where the babies come from) being (insert curse word that begins with the letter F) by a man’s (insert anything you want here, ‘cause I think you get the picture).
The outtakes are the reel disappointment (get it, I said “reel” instead of “real”?). Not only is there barely three minutes of them, they aren’t the least bit funny. Oh, wow, some kid messed up his line more than 20 times about a fantasy role playing game being played in a library. You mean the guy who played the computer salesman messed up? You mean the midget that played the stuffed animal taking Ms. Cherry from behind messed up his actions and didn’t have good rhythm on the bed? Is he a virgin? And is it me or are all of the gag reels on these DVDs just not as funny as we once thought?
If you’re really bored, you can watch several previews for movies like Hitman, Meet the Spartans, AVP: Requiem, The Darjeeling Limited, Burn Notice, and Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs. If those previews don’t interest you, you can do what I did and turn the DVD off. Or, you could do what I did in Disney World when Space Mountain was closed: cry hysterically until your parents make you ride the Haunted Mansion and you figure out that Space Mountain is really just an overhyped ride that you never get to see because it’s too damn dark inside.