Comedy anthology movies have been out of fashion for quite some time, and there doesn't seem to be much point to bringing them back now. After all, if anyone truly has the desire to watch a collection of skits of varying degrees of humorousness, websites like YouTube and Funny or Die offer more than you could ever watch in a lifetime. So against all reason, along comes "Movie 43" a star-studded throwback to films like "The Kentucky Fried Movie," "The Groove Tube," and "Amazon Women on the Moon," hoping to bring the genre screaming into the modern era. Those films are without a doubt uneven, but each contains at least a few moments of brilliance, something that sadly can never be said for the utterly brainless, unfunny "Movie 43."
Supposedly this film has been in the works for nearly four years, with participants working on their segments whenever they had some downtime between real projects. You'd think over the course of four years, the assembled collection of writers and directors would have been able to produce one legitimately funny idea. Instead, we're subjected to segment after segment of tasteless gross-out humor. You'll never see another movie as obsessed with bodily fluids as this one. That type of humor has its place, no doubt, but to make it work you at least need to come up with something original.
Likewise, complaining about the racist, misogynistic, and homophobic humor throughout "Movie 43" seems like an exercise in futility, but even that "out to offend everyone" brand of comedy can be funny if it's presented in the right way. Here, it's just presented, often in the most obvious, lifeless way possible. I wish the film really were as outrageous and willing to push the boundaries as it thinks it is. Instead it's the sort of offensive that's so lazy and unimaginative that it ends up just being boring.
The segments are tied together through a loose framing story, in which a talentless filmmaker (Dennis Quaid) desperately pitches movie idea to a studio executive, played by Greg Kinnear. Each skit is supposedly one of the filmmaker's many film proposals, but that doesn't really matter; it's just a clothesline on which to hang the various, otherwise unrelated, skits. Supposedly, the international version of the film has a completely different framing device, involving a group of teenagers scouring the internet for an infamous, banned video known as "Movie 43".
The film avoids becoming a total boys club through the inclusion of a single female director, the lovely and talented Elizabeth Banks. Perhaps not so surprisingly, her segment, about a middle-school date that goes terribly awry when the young girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) suddenly gets her first period, is the only one that attempts to make any kind of a point. That point happens comes through the use of a dumb fart joke, but when the bar is this low, it earns points just for trying.
But by far the most successful segment stars Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber as parents who take the homeschooling of their child to its logical extreme, deciding to give him the emotionally scarring experience that a public school education would provide. Unfortunately, like every other skit in the film, it peters out somewhere in the middle before limping across the finish line.
Aside from two appreciably offbeat commercials, one about tampons and the other a PSA about children living inside machines, the other segments offer gradually diminishing returns. Brett Ratner's segment, in which Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott take a leprechaun (played inexplicably by Gerard Butler) hostage, is a lowpoint. When the other sketches include one that's literally one long poop joke, that's a real achievement.
It goes without saying that the film completely squanders a cast overflowing with talent. (I haven't even mentioned appearances from the likes of Halle Berry, Richard Gere, Bobby Cannavale, Kristen Bell, John Hodgeman, Uma Thurman, and Emma Stone.) Every actor is allowed some poor choices throughout his or her career, but the mind positively reels over what the directors had on all these stars to make them agree to participate. It's interesting, and perhaps a tad troubling, to note that in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Liev Schreiber mentioned that when shooting occurred, he was unaware the short was going to be used in a film.
Incidentally, if for some reason you decide you must go see this film (and I recommend that you don't), do yourself a favor and avoid the movie's red band trailer, unless you want to have the handful of decent jokes completely spoiled for you. On the other hand, if you've ever longed to see Oscar-winner Kate Winslet star alongside current Academy Award nominee Hugh Jackman in a skit about a woman set up on a blind date with a seemingly perfect man, only to discover that he's got a giant pair of testicles growing out of his neck, you may have just found nirvana.
Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman in "Movie 43." PHOTO COURTESY RELATIVITY MEDIA