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.