Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Onion Movie (2008)

Starring Len Cariou, Sarah McElligot, Steven Seagal, et al
Unrated, 80 minutes

I was aware of "The Onion" and its hilarious headlines paired with satirical news stories for some time. But I only really took notice when a friend showed me some of their video material on the web. I was howling when I watched their slickly produced, straight-faced parodies of cable news.

The movie looked to deliver that. Underneath a rapid fire collection of fake news stories and the occasional sketch, there was a loose plot. Corporate giant Global Tetrahedron takes over Onion News, slipping in ads for its upcoming action blockbuster "Cockpuncher" during the broadcast. Veteran anchor Norm Archer (Cariou) was not happy with this direction, and threatened to quit. Tensions overseas were coming to a head, and he felt it was an important story worth covering.

I laughed hysterically at the first news story. Then a few went by with just a smile. A number of the sketches in this movie lacked a comic bang. Some had a decent premise. But those with a good idea would go on too long (a'la Saturday Night Live) or simply fail to take it the comedy distance I was accustomed to with The Onion newspaper. Other sketches lacked a decent idea to play with, like a lengthy one featuring a role playing game champion who gets transported into a real mythical world, and finds it much harder to deal with than he imagined. Off the top of my head, they could've had the guy try to play his various action cards and roll dice against these giant CGI beasts, quickly getting beaten into a bloody pulp. Instead, he clutches on to a 2-liter of Hawaiian Punch and cowers in fear. Meh.

It was a movie for Pete's sake, not an article for the print edition that had to be topical on a deadline. Take some time to write it! Especially with the apparent budget they had, where even the dumbest jokes looked like a million bucks, I was disappointed to see clunkers within the short 80 minute runtime.

Some parts were embarrassing reminders of "The Underground Comedy Movie." Remember that? Sold in direct response ads airing in late night time slots, "Underground" just pulverized the commercial viewer with random lewdness. "Dickman fights lesbians!" The same applied here. Characters talked dirty just to get a rise out of the audience. I can be a comedy dullard when I want to, chortling like a school child over a dick joke. But some instances in this movie made me feel embarrassed to watch.

Every now and again, a sketch would have that Onion charm. The mundane became breaking news. A regular headline, like U.S. obesity, would be turned on its ear. There was a particularly un-P.C. story about athletes overcoming handicaps that got me to lose it. Enough laughs were had to keep me sticking around for the next big joke. But not enough laughs to recommend seeing this movie. Perhaps if I make you a highlight reel.


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