DVD LET­TER­BOX

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - MICHAEL BODEY

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

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