Spoilers (like it matters)
Zero Dark Thirty, an appalling mess of a movie, has lain at the bottom of my movie rankings since I saw it in January, testament to its myriad of flaws. I doubted whether I would see any other movie that could match its sheer awfulness.
But now I have, thanks to the magic of Netflix and a misjudged sense of curiosity. It’s called Movie 43.
A desperate and somewhat insane screenwriter (Dennis Quaid) pitches a bizarre movie idea at a bedraggled studio exec (Greg Kinnear) going as far as to hold him at gunpoint in a bid to make him listen. The “pitch” is for a succession of comedy sketches, an anthology featuring a surprisingly glittering cast, from Kate Winslet to Halle Berry.
And it’s so, so bad. I mean terrible. Superlatives fail me. It is one of those movies where, upon finishing it, you can only admit that you would not begin it if given a second chance.
This is a movie that is as bizarre and unfathomable as its production history. Producer Charles Wessler and eventual head director Peter Farrelly, he of the famous Brothers, drafted in a plethora of showbiz friends to work for scale on this project, offering others the chance to play a part outside of their usual fare as an enticement. With a shooting schedule that had to be worked around the timetables of dozens of actors, Movie 43 apparently took over four years to shoot in its entirety, as actors tried to back out (some, like Colin Farrell, succeeding) when it came their turn, the initial plan of pairs of directors (including Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park) collapsed, and Wessler/Farrelly ran into repeated financial issues.
But they somehow managed to get it all made, promoted and released, this attempt at a comedic anthology movie in the style of Funny Or Die sketches, just more extreme. The result is a movie with the barest skeleton of an overarching plot, infested with lowbrow humour and nonsensical jokes. I know comedy is a very subjective thing, but I find it hard to believe that anybody could genuinely describe Movie 43 as a pleasant experience, even the teenage and under market this is aimed at.
“The Pitch”, that overarching sketch featuring Quaid and Kinnear, has some genuinely guffaw worthy moments, before it constantly reverts back to inaccurate sex jokes, homosexual innuendo and an overuse of curse words and celebrity cameos, a sentence that could probably be applied to the rest of the film. Neither Kinnear nor Quaid are in any way committed to their razor thin characters, and the conclusion of it made the entire exercise pointless, like Farrelly ran out of time and just needed to wrap things up quickly. With only Common standing out in any way, shape or form, this was not a good way to start. Oh, and there’s Seth McFarlene for a humour free inclusion. Glad that entertainment troll was included (I really, really don’t like that guy).
The remainder of this review will just take a brief look at the offered sketches, since there is no other plot or Common (pun intended, and it’s funnier than most things in Movie 43) thread.
The first is “The Catch”, which was apparently the first thing shot and thus the show reel to try and attract others to the project, featuring Kate Winslet going on a date with the most eligible bachelor in town, played by Hugh Jackman. You know he’s the most eligible bachelor in town, because this is literally spelled out for you. The joke is that Jackman’s character has a pair of testicles protruding from his neck, the sort of visual yuck that makes you guffaw for approximately four seconds until you realise that that is all that the sketch has, this one piece of image humour, with Kate Winslet’s disgusted expression juxtaposed against it. If that’s what got people hooked into Movie 43, I don’t know how.
There is no joke there, just a random prosthetic we’re supposed to glare at. I suppose there is also the fact that only Winslet seems to notice, but that just doesn’t make sense, is more confusing than funny. That laziness and lack of ambition is evident throughout the rest of Movie 43, with an obvious dependence on the shock image, over previous attempts by the director to use such things briefly in order to maximise their effect in movies like Me, Myself And Irene or There’s Something About Mary. Even when they’re drawn out, like with the “hair gel” in Mary, there’s at least a suitable set-up and a payoff. It’s crafted with a joke in mind, unlike here, where the joke is “balls where they shouldn’t be”.
(I break for a moment to link to this bizarrely sympathetic review of Movie 43 by Australian website Crikey I happened upon. Aside from making every kind of excuse for this disaster and reading way too much into the nonexistent depth of some sketches, it describes the above skit about a man with testicles on his neck as like “a Twilight Zone mystery”, a description far funnier than anything Movie 43 has to offer since the writer appears to be serious).
The next one, “Homeschooled”, is one of only two sketches that I actually enjoyed outright, as Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts discuss their extreme attempts to simulate a high school environment for their teenaged son, played with a brilliant thousand yard stare by Jeremy Allen White. This one hit all the right notes of parody, sending up the clichés of high school while allowing the actors involved to “just have fun with it”. Yes, it went a bit too far at moments, but Schreiber’s awkwardly posed faux gay come on actually did make me chuckle, as did the crazy “twist” ending. This was the kind of thing that the whole movie should have been about, genuine satire and parody without resort to crude imagery (mostly), but Farrelly didn’t continue with that theme (or, at least, the army of directors he hired didn’t).
Next is “The Proposition”, an absurd sketch focused around the most crude form of scatological humour, with Anna Faris and Doug Pratt suffering through the most tawdry and disgusting material on offer. Poor Pratt is soon to be a household name after Guardians of the Galaxy, and he doesn’t deserve to have that name hitched to so dumb and unfunny a scene. At least Faris’ career has long been over in a meaningful sense.
“Veronica”, with Kieran Culkin (the lesser) and Emma Stone, is a totally unfunny interaction between two white trash former lovers in a supermarket, just another few minutes for gross-out humour, now of a sexual rather than defecation bent.
Richard Gere apparently did everything that he could to get out of the next bit, an “i-Babe” skit, based around that most hilarious of topics, male genital mutilation. I don’t blame him. Comedic gems like Aasif Mandvi and Jack McBrayer did themselves a horrible disservice by choosing to appear in this garbage, which features men being unable to resist sticking their dicks into a computer fan for masturbatory purposes since it’s in the vaginal area of a naked female robot. Laugh it up guys!
Then, “Superhero Speed Dating”, one of the longer sketches, with Justin Long teaming up with Jason Sudeikis for a Batman and Robin parody around 20 million years behind the times. Some mildly funny moments arise from Robin’s pathetic attempts to woo women under the watchful eyes of his embarrassing partner, but Long has been irritating ever since his God-awful Mac commercials, and lo and behold, his partner from those monstrosities, John Hodgmon, is here as well. Poor Kristen Bell and Leslie Bibb are dragged into the gutter too. Find female pubic hair amusing? You’ll like this sketch. Like comics? You’ll think it’s the lamest thing since “One More Day”.
Next it’s a faux PSA about kids having to work in vending machines, an over the top idea that could have worked, but lacks any actual humour to do so.
If you liked the sketches about excrement, extreme sexual imagery, pubic hair and penile injury, you’ll just delight in ”Middleschool Date” which moves on to covering the topic of periods. Chloe Gratz Moretz, her Kick-Ass co-star Christopher Mintz Plass, Jimmy Benett, Patrick Warburton and Matt Clark stumble through material so hideously unfunny and incredibly uncomfortable, that the fart jokes actually raise it up a bar.
A tampax ad follows, about a women on her period being eaten by a shark. Sudden, short, it got a mild laugh from me, though I would have been ready to laugh at anything after the last few sketches.
Johnny Knoxville and Sean William Scott are redneck brothers in “Happy Birthday”, who capture a leprechaun played by Gerard Butler, playing so far outside type that he’s actually changed species. This one had some funny moments, mostly in Butler’s foul mouthed threats for sheer over the top obscenity value, but then turned overly-violent and disgusting. Still, it was one of the better skits on offer, with Knoxville and Scott knowing their business better than many of the A-Listers also present. Imagine my surprise when I saw it was Brett Ratner behind the camera, this definitely being more Horrible Bosses than X-Men: The Last Stand.
“Truth or Dare” is next, as Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant, too great actors with some credible comedic pedigrees between them, offer up an inane, pointless adventure of one-upmanship, where the pay-off is ridiculous make-up design mixed in with jokes at the expense of Asians. It was this point that I had to stop and wonder how anyone involved could have found the script funny, and not have tried to alter it in some way. I can only presume Wessler and Farrelly are owed some very big favours, or were playing on the critical success of his previous stuff. Still, it’s hard to believe that the guys with hands on the wheel for the genius of There’s Something About Mary approved a scene featuring Halle Berry bearing giant fake breasts to the screen as the climax of the “comedy”.
Into the final stretch then, with the only other skit I actually found myself enjoying. “Victory’s Glory” is a blunt pisstake of sports films, 30 For 30 style documentaries and inspirational cinema, mixed with some faux offensive material surrounding the word “negro”, a term treated in a delightfully ridiculous way by the absurd white “villains”, who use it with every second breath. Terrence Howard gives it socks as a basketball coach who is only interested in re-asserting the fact that his all-black team will easily triumph over their all-white opponents, with an in your face approach that was actually funny in the way that it courted controversy and offence.
Lastly then, there is “Beezel” with Josh Duhamel and Elizabeth Banks, with Banks trying to deal with her boyfriend’s insane, perverted cartoon cat. This idea has some legs (ha, I’m killing it, sign me up for the sequel Farrelly!) as a parody of Garfield and his ilk, but ultimately reverts too far into jokes about crude sexual imagery, bodily functions and stupid violence, with nobody really giving it their all. It’s not enough to just show those things and expect the laugh track, a common problem throughout.
Movie 43 then has no story worth talking about, only an excruciatingly numerous amount of poorly thought out and executed sketches, only momentarily elevated by the tiny amount of decent offerings.
In terms of acting, there is really very little to say beyond everything that I have said above. Everyone only has a few minutes and most are unused to sketch comedy and what it requires – comedic timing, commitment and a bit of subtlety. For everyone else, the material just isn’t good enough. Quaid, Schreiber, Watts, Knoxville, Scott, Butler and Howard are the best of a very bad lot. Very few of the movies stars bothered, or were willing, to speak about the movie publically or give it any sort of promotion at all, which is very telling.
Visually, its…fine? There is nothing in that category that I can say really stood out, positive or negative. If Movie 43 can say nothing else, it can at least say that it was shot with competence, albeit without anything noteworthy.
Script, well it’s mostly jokes about disgusting things said by actors who don’t seem to be sure they want to say them. When the first joke is a weak flatulence jab, you know you’re going nowhere fast. The handful of funny lines are like diamonds in the rough. If I had to pick out a favourite, it would be the likes of Common’s studio exec revealing to Greg Kinnear that has slept with his wife followed by “And then you came in early the next day. That’s fucked up man”, probably the only one time I laughed out loud with passion, the delivery was so perfect. But everything else is only so much dross looking for the cheapest laugh possible, one based on shock rather than genuine mirth. There is so little intelligence behind the script of this movie, compared to any other Farrelly Brothers project, that it is clear to me now just which sibling has been carrying that pair.
There is little to no music to discuss in Movie 43. I assume they couldn’t afford it.
Ditto themes. There is no depth here, no hidden message unless you’re implanting one yourself to try and keep your sanity. Two decent sketches, one half-decent one, and then nothing but rubbish for the rest of the running time.
Man, this was a short review (for me), but I found Movie 43 so distasteful, so crude and so painfully unfunny for most of its length that I just find myself with so little to say, aside from a plaintive cry of “How did this get made?” Who made the harebrained decision to finance this, which wasn’t even that profitable? Why did so many A-Listers, Oscar winners (!) decide that this was something worth doing, given the obviously moronic nature of the script? Why did Farrelly abandon all of the previous positives and comic timing that have marked out the works of him and his brother?
I don’t know. I watched this because I’ve loved most of Farrelly’s previous work and wondered if the profoundly negative reaction this one got from reviewers might have been hyperbole. But it was not. Farrelly might bitch and moan about the audacity reviewers have to point out how bad Movie 43 was, (as another aside, a terrible trait for anyone involved in the Hollywood entertainment industry to have, showcasing both a thin skin and sheer delusion at the same time), but the vast consensus isn’t a conspiracy and it isn’t wrong. Movie 43 is, by and large, anti-comedy, something that is so actively unfunny that what actually laughs it manages to create are lost in the maelstrom of disgust and eye-rolling. One to avoid. Actually, one to run screaming from in the opposite direction.
(All images copyright of Relativity Media).