scott howard graphic design writing and editing photography video about contact

July 2008

The Onion Movie

Reanimated corpse of Rodney Dangerfield stars in long-delayed movie from popular website

You read that headline right. Rodney Dangerfield died in 2004, before Hurricane Katrina, before YouTube, before the Red Sox won the World Series. But thanks to the fine folks at The Onion, he’s been miraculously brought back to life for their debut film! And they resurrected Steven Seagal while they were at it!

Oh wait, maybe it’s just been on a shelf gathering dust for a couple of years. I guess that’s a little more logical than rousing the lifeless bodies of Dangerfield and Seagal back from their eternal slumber for cameos in a straight-to-video sketch comedy film. [Our sources are telling us that Steven Seagal is not currently and has never been dead. –ed.]

The Onion Movie was the stuff of legend for most of this decade, the Chinese Democracy of alternative comedy. News of America’s finest fake newspaper making the jump to the silver screen first started circulating in 2000, when Comedy Central teased a buyout that eventually fell apart. A year later the staff signed a first-look deal with Miramax Films that yielded nothing. In 2003, Fox greenlit a movie written by several Onion staffers that actually completed filming, but after a series of middling test screenings the entire creative team left the project. Various reports of attempts to salvage the project trickled out, but Onion management claimed the movie was completely dead. Fast forward to February of this year, when a trailer popped up out of nowhere on the Darjeeling Limited DVD. Shortly thereafter, a June release date was quietly announced on Fox’s website. But the big question remained: what is this movie?

The Onion Movie, at least in the incarnation that’s finally going out to the public, isn’t likely to change the world, but it more than delivers the laughs. It has the basic construction of every sketch comedy movie you’ve ever seen, with the site’s popular Onion News Network team providing a loose framework around a dozen or so unconnected skits. While it’s not immediately obvious what’s new and what’s been salvaged from the 2003 footage (beyond, you know, the stuff with people who died in 2004), it’s safe to say that the ONN stuff is fairly new since it launched just over a year ago and that the skits themselves are old since they cover fresh new material like teen pop stars who act like whores and computers that become obsolete overnight.

But even those outdated sketches are pretty hilarious, and the material that operates in a timeless vacuum is on par with memorable recent headlines like “Some Old Man Still Churning Out Marmaduke” and “Tennessee Helpless Against New Basement Tornadoes”. The most popular segment will undoubtedly be the Seagal-starring action parody “Cockpuncher”, but I was partial to the one about a masked man who demands a job from a bank teller at gunpoint and begins a long, fruitful career in the financial services industry (his nameplate reads “Armed Gunman”). There’s also a great send-up of syrupy human interest stories that profiles a hockey player who is legless, armless, afflicted with scurvy, was born with his ribcage inside-out, went bankrupt and whose wife was eaten by wolves.

Far from the trainwreck one might expect given the delays, The Onion Movie ends up as a very funny set of shorts that fans of off-kilter sketch comedy like Mr. Show and Upright Citizens Brigade will love. Hey, maybe Chinese Democracy won’t suck after all! Guess we’ll all find out when it’s released in December 2078.


  © copyright scott howard