ARTISTS do it. Authors do it. Journalists don’t do it enough. Junk unworthy material, that is. Nor does Hollywood. That is why the DVD format is so perfect. It is a wonderful dumping ground for movies unworthy of the hefty print and advertising expenditure required for a cinema release.
A studio that invests $ 10 million or more in creating a film is unlikely to write it off. Once Hollywood has a finished print, it surmises it will find some rube somewhere who will help defray its costs by watching it. DVD Letterbox concedes it has written that
‘‘ straight- to- DVD’’ title wasn’t as damning as it once was. Then along comes a film that makes a mockery of that.
The Onion Movie is so bad it’s risible. Even worse, it damages one of the great comedic brands, satirical news outfit The Onion. News satire, at least in its most basic form, is only a couple of steps up from puns in comedy’s ladder of difficulty. You only need to practise a few comedy conventions to be able to turn today’s news into humour.
Nevertheless, it has proven to be an effective and accessible form of wit used in disparate comedy television shows ranging from The Two Ronnies and Saturday Night Live to Full Frontal and Comedy Inc . They’ve all used the newsreader at the desk conceit. It’s cheap, easy and reliable. To be fair, the present masters of news satire, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report ’ Stephen Colbert — and their multitude of writers — practise something far more complex and praiseworthy.
The Onion is an ‘‘ old media’’ variation of news satire. It was created by two students at the University of Wisconsin- Madison in 1988 who produced a newspaper — so 1980s — which they sold soon after.
It has morphed into one of the great comedy outlets of modern times with its newspaper, which is distributed through the US, and annual book editions, and now the web TV spoof, the Onion News Network, launched in March last year.
Its headlines have been, er, headline grabbing, particularly on September 13, 2001: ‘‘ Holy ### ing shit!’’ I prefer its ‘‘ Drugs win war on drugs’’, ‘‘ Report: 98 per cent of US commuters favour public transportation for others,’’ and ‘‘ Rumsfeld: ‘ My half- ass job here is done’ ’’.
Anyway, there is nothing unfunnier than recounting someone else’s jokes. Which is precisely what happened to The Onion team.
The hot property was picked up by Hollywood to make a film. No one really explored how to translate pithy headlines to a big screen narrative but the untitled Onion movie was shot by early 2004, although not to the satisfaction of executives at its production studio, Regency.
What happened next has been swept under the carpet. What is known is original co- directors Mike Maguire and Tom Kuntz left the film, as did co- writer Robert Seigel. James Kleiner has the directing credit and, after being in limbo for more than two years, The Onion Movie has been released on DVD with seemingly little input from The Onion team.
The film might fit in the long but dubious tradition of sketch comedy films if it weren’t so poor. Certainly, the addition of David Zucker as a producer recalls his better moments as a writer of 1977’ s The Kentucky Fried Movie and director of what were essentially sketch comedies, Flying High!, Top Secret! and The Naked Gun. But there’s no reflected glory here.
I would recount some gags from The Onion Movie but they are unfunny, obvious, profane and puerile. The film is a mess that throws headlines at you between sketches and has one of the most half- baked plots seen in cinema.
It is most galling, though, because it trades on a comedy brand name that is reliable enough to draw in a rube like me.
No reflected glory: Producer David Zucker