The Onion Movie – review

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Okay, so I have to my hands up right now and admit, I don’t really know a huge amount about The Onion. As a casual reader of the website (and not a subscriber) I suspect I know roughly the same as you – The Onion is a highly amusing, satirical website, which disguises itself as a genuine News outlet, but is in actual fact a sardonic parody which cuts through the heart of Americana. I suppose I would compare it favourably to the work of Armando Iannucci or Chris Morris. There is a caustic drollness to a lot of the content, and irrefutably quashes the oft-murmured cliché that Americans Don’t Get Sarcasm.

Early last year The Onion started recording its own video footage, broadcast online as ONN – the Onion News Network. So, when a new dvd surfaced called The Onion Movie, it only seemed logical to conclude that this was a compilation of sorts, featuring edited ONN highlights. Well, how wrong I was!

After a short amount of digging around, I discovered that (..and I hasten to add I may have misconstrued this) The Onion Movie was a collaborative effort with Fox, filmed in 2003, that tested badly and was shelved before Onion staff walked away from the project. Four years later, like a phoenix from the ashes, Fox resurrected the project to try and get some money out of their investment, and hired a new crew to update and finish the film for a dvd release. All of this furore sounds extremely complicated to me, and I think the most pertinent question it raises is that of the film’s mixed parentage – essentially, this is The Onion In Name Only, brought to you from the director of Airplane and the Naked gun.

Ultimately though, this whole convoluted tale is only going to affect you if you are an Onion obsessive and know their humour SO well that you are likely to notice where the cracks that have been papered over between old and new material.

Unaware of all of these back-room brawls between writers and producers, I still had very low expectations for this film as I fired it up in the machine, seeing it more as a “Well, I may as well give it a shot” sort of effort, rather than a “Yes! Finally!” So, that being said, I have to declare I was very pleasantly surprised by what I watched. . . .

The movie takes the form of a 80 minute sketch show that revolves around the fictional Onion News television broadcasts – this platform gives the writers plenty of freedom to play with the format, ranging from Day Today-style headline news, to Robocop-style faux adverts interspersed in the “breaks,” and a loose narrative shell of a disgruntled anchorman railing against corporate sponsorship, chasing ratings, and dumbing down (somewhat ironic, considering it is a Fox production). The most obvious comparison would be with Kentucky Fried Movie, which Zucker was also formative in creating, 30 years ago. Perhaps a gentle nod and wink in the direction of Wierd Al Yankovic’s UHF would also be pertinent.

What little you may have heard about the movie already may have been about the hilarious Steven Seagal cameo as “Cockpuncher”…

My kneejerk reaction was to chide myself for laughing at something as crass as “Ow, My Balls!” (taken from another Fox-shelved-then-dvd’d film, Idiocracy). However, quite cleverly (for a comedy of this calibre), what is initially introduced as a ridiculous joke is then re-visited as an increasingly integral role in the film’s tenuous story arc. The escalation is brought to a head in a surreal climactic sequence which references Network and Kill Bill (amongst others). Just whilst I remember, there is a fantastic cameo in the final scene which nearly had me fall out of my seat, and is a delicious, knowing acknowledgement to fans of 80’s comedies.

There is a strong Monty Python influence to proceedings as well – one self referential skit at the Middle of The Film borrows heavily from “The Meaning of Life” and the makers of the film are savvy enough to recognise the two potential polarities of their viewing audience – The Onion fanbase intelligentsia, and the hyuk-hyuk-ing stoner dudes. At other points, a punchline to one gag is the starting point of the next skit, and it’s all rather seamlessly woven together.

So in summary – is it stupid fun? Yes, unquestionably. Is it a biting satire? Not really, but it does have a go, and manages to lampoon justabout every politically correct convention going. Is it original? Good lord no. Will you enjoy it? Well, I’d suggest that if you don’t get your hopes built up too high, then you’ll pass 80 minutes with a smile on your face and the odd chortle. Maybe one to rent, rather than buy.

 

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