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September 24, 2008

DVD REVIEW: The Onion, Unpeeled


By Stephen Silver

Who doesn’t love The Onion? Ever since it was established in Madison, Wisconsin, in the early 1990s, the comedy newspaper has spawned a hugely popular web site, editions in many cities and numerous book compilations, not to mention a slew of imitators. Now, the paper has become a movie, released on DVD this summer.


The Onion Movie made headlines when it was first optioned in 2003, but the project, after filming some footage, soon headed into limbo when the entire team behind it was dissatisfied with the result. It then ended up on the shelf, where it was expected to stay for the foreseeable future.


But more than four years later, the footage was rescued by a different distributor – one with no ties to the paper – who put together a direct-to-DVD release with little promotion. The director, “James Kleiner,” is an Alan Smithee-like pseudonym for original director Tom Kuntz, who removed his name from the project.


Probably the first movie ever based, literally, on a satirical newspaper – or any kind of newspaper, for that matter – The Onion Movie represents nothing so much as a throwback to such comedy anthology films of the late 1970s and early 1980s like Kentucky Fried Movie and Amazon Women on the Moon. The movie’s plot is a mere clothesline on which to hang various goofy gags.


Not much of it is up to the paper’s standards. A front page newspaper article about a guy losing his socks can be funny; a five-minute sketch about it is considerably less so. Other jokes, meanwhile, are lifted directly from years-old bits from the newspaper. There’s also a Britney Spears parody, a concept that was probably fresh when it was filmed in 2003, but it is now older than dirt.

In all, The Onion Movie is much like a Saturday Night Live sketch, on a night when the host sucks, the sketches are lackluster and none of the “Weekend Update” jokes are hitting. The movie also suffers a pitfall of the Onion’s “Online News Network” video features: It’s very, very similar to The Daily Show, but not nearly as funny.


There are a few inspired bits: a locksmith just for men who get their penises caught in library doors, an athlete blaming God when his team loses and also a parody of inspirational sports human interest segments about a perpetually injured hockey player. And a parody of geriatric celebrity roasts which really isn’t that far off from the real thing.


The movie, though, is so slapped together that it keeps returning to the very few actually funny bits until they use all humor. The first time Steven Seagal appears as a martial arts superhero called “C-ckpuncher,” it’s funny. The tenth and eleventh times, not so much.


The Onion brand remains strong on the newspaper, book and web sides, but if The Onion Movie is any indication, the movies are one medium for which America’s Finest News Source is not quite ready.


One star out of four


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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