The Onion Movie (2008, directed by James Kleiner)

From some of the funniest people on Earth comes one of the least funny films ever made.

That was, at least, my initial reaction to watching The Onion Movie.  Written by two of the founders of the world’s premiere satirical news sight, The Onion Movie is a collection of skits that are almost all based on Onion headlines.  Some of the skits are amusing.  Most of them aren’t.  When it comes to the Onion, the headlines are often funnier than the details.  A headline about a murder mystery party switching over to a rape investigation party might be funny but having to sit through a lengthy skit about it is considerably less amusing.

Len Cariou plays an anchorman at the Onion News Network, who introduces each satirical story and who gets upset when his employers keep using his newscast to promote a new Stephen Seagal movie called Cock Puncher.  (Seagal, who appears as himself, punches people in the groin.  The joke would have been funnier if the fake movie had starred Dolph Lundgren.)  In between introducing absurd stories, Cariou yells at the network executives, who don’t care about the integrity of the news.  Len Cariou is the best thing in the film because he plays his role straight, never once smiling or winking at the camera.

The Onion Movie was written by two of the Onion’s founders and was originally filmed in 2003.  It sat on the shelf for five years before being released, without much fanfare, direct-to-video.  By the time it was released, The Onion itself had all but disowned the movie, announcing that they were no longer involved beyond the use of the site’s name.  (Something similar happened in the 80s when MAD Magazine briefly tried to branch out into films.)  Watching the film, it’s easy to see why The Onion distanced themselves from the final product.  It’s not just that, for the most part, it’s not very funny.  It’s also that the majority of the humor is shockingly racist and sexist.  (Halfway through the film, a black civil rights leader announces that he’s going to lead a walk-out to protest the way that blacks have been portrayed in the film.  It’s played as a joke but the man has a point.)  The Onion Movie wants credit for being politically incorrect but instead, most of the humor just feels lazy.  The Onion Movie is type of movie that, if it were released today, The A.V. Club would demand that it be banned.  Schadenfreude is nothing to brag about and I’m not proud that I felt some of that as I watched The Onion Movie.  If the people who created one of the funniest sites on Earth could create something this bad, I thought, that makes me feel better about every mistake I’ve ever made over the course of my entire life.

By the way, the film’s best joke is borrowed from Caddyshack but at least they got Rodney Dangerfield to come back and deliver it.  Dangerfield was always good, even in something like The Onion Movie.


A Movie A Day #214: Urban Justice (2007, directed by Don E. FauntLeRoy)

Steven Seagal returns and this time, he’s out for justice!  Urban justice!

After his son, a beloved Los Angeles cop, is assassinated, Simon Ballister (Seagal, of course) comes out of retirement to get revenge.  Retirement from what?  Like most of Seagal’s characters, Simon has a deadly and legendary past.  Nearly everyone who meets him says something like, “So, you’re Simon.”  Everyone wants Simon Ballister to do something for them.  El Chivo (Danny Trejo!) wants Simon to help defeat his rival, Armand Tucker (Eddie Griffin).  Armand Tucker wants to be Scarface.  Simon just wants revenge.

Much like Elvis, Steven Seagal’s career can be divided into a thin and a fat period.  Thin Steven Seagal was all over movie screens in the 90s, making up for the fact that he could not act by convincingly beating people up.  Fat Steven Seagal appears almost exclusively in direct-to-video productions.  He does everything that Thin Seagal did but he sweats a lot more while doing it.  Unfortunately, Fat Seagal is an even worse actor than Thin Seagal.  Since Fat Seagal produces almost all of his own films, there is no one around to say, “Let’s cut away from Steve during this speech, he looks stupid.”

Urban Justice is peak Fat Seagal.  It actually features more fights than the typical Fat Seagal movie but they are all edited in such a way that it is obvious that most of the blows were delivered by a stuntman while Seagal undoubtedly stood in a corner, trying to catch his breath. Since Urban Justice features Seagal in what is supposed to be the ghetto, he calls everyone that he meets, “motherfucker.”  Fat Seagal has the same Clint Eastwood-style rasp that he had when he was Thin Seagal but he still sound stupid whenever he says, “I want the motherfucker who killed my son.”

Eddie Griffin is pretty good as Armand Tucker.  I don’t know if Eddie improvised all of his dialogue but it certainly seems like he did.  All of the movie’s best lines belong to Eddie Griffin.  Just one example: “Man, fuck Santa Claus!  He never gave me shit!  That’s why I sell dope!”  As for Danny Trejo, he doesn’t do much but he’s Danny Trejo.

Personally, looking over the career of Steven Seagal, I think he made a mistake by trying to be an action hero.  It is hard to think of any other actor with as unlikable a screen presence as Steven Seagal.  If Steve had made his career playing villains, he would probably still have a good career going.  People would gladly play money to see Steven Seagal get blown up at the end of a Jason Bourne sequel.  Instead, he insisted on playing the hero and his career is now made up of appearing in direct-to-video movies and threatening to run for governor of Arizona.

To quote Clint Eastwood, “a man’s got to know his limitations.”