The ad campaign for Movie 43 – an anthology comedy that utilizes twelve directors, seventeen writers, and a gigantic ensemble cast – candidly admits that audiences will find it over the top, offensive, and disgusting. Indeed, I found it to be all those things. Logic dictates that I should give it a positive review. After all, it delivered exactly as it promised. But now I’m faced with a quandary. Does the fact that I got what I paid for mean that I’m automatically supposed to accept it for what it is? Logic notwithstanding, emotion dictates that I hated every second of it. Maybe I’m of the belief that a film isn’t good simply by virtue of the fact that it’s true to itself. Maybe films like this should stop trying to be merely inane and actively work towards being a comedy. That opens another can of worms, since “comedy” is one of the most subjective concepts there is. Many have told me that I don’t have a sense of humor. I’ve said the same thing about others.
In the space of ninety minutes, the film presents us with thirteen short films and one wraparound segment. Although directors such as Peter Farrelly, Steve Carr, Bob Odenkirk, Brett Ratner, and Elizabeth Banks labor mightily over them, they’re each founded on one-joke premises that aren’t funny to begin with and only get less funny with every passing second. The only objectives are to be scatological and politically incorrect. In the proper context, this method can indeed be funny. Here, it’s little more than a desperate plea for attention. Adding insult to injury is that every short features two to three well-established stars, all of whom are either (a) really good sports, or (b) more confident than they probably should be given the circumstances. True enough, it must take guts for someone like Hugh Jackman to play a man who has testicles dangling from his neck, or Anna Faris to play a woman who wants her boyfriend to defecate on her.
The wraparound segment features a man named Charlie Wessler (Denis Quaid), a crazed vagrant so desperate to sell his screenplay to a movie studio that he’s willing to hold at gunpoint producer Griffin Schraeder (Greg Kinnear). Wessler’s story pitches double as the individual shorts. I’ve already mentioned the one’s starring Jackman and Faris. The others may not be quite as depraved, but they are equally as pointless and juvenile. In one, a new MP3 player, the iBabe, is a made to look like a full-sized naked young woman; the head of the company (Richard Gere) fails to comprehend the inherent the machine’s design flaw, namely the placement of the cooling fan in the doll’s vaginal region. The only sane person in the room is Kate Bosworth, who has to explain why clueless teenage boys are getting mangled. In another, two best friends (Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott) have a leprechaun (a digitally altered Gerard Butler) tied up and gagged in their basement. All three will take turns beating the crap out of each other for a pot of gold.
The list goes on. Two teenage boys (Jimmy Bennett and Christopher Mintz-Plasse) completely lose their cool when a visiting girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) has her first ever period and makes a small mess. (Was this Moretz’s way of preparing for the remake of Carrie?) A supermarket checkout clerk (Kieran Culkan) has a lover’s spat with his girlfriend (Emma Stone), one that’s broadcast to all the shoppers via the intercom system. A woman (Halle Berry) meets a man (Stephen Merchant) at a Mexican restaurant on a blind date; they start playing Truth or Dare, and the dares eventually escalate from random acts of cruelty to strangers to mutilating themselves with plastic surgery. A woman (Elizabeth Banks) falls in love with a man (Josh Duhamel) whose perverted cartoon cat is so pathologically attached to his master that he conspires to prevent the relationship from blossoming. We also see a vintage educational movie from 1959, in which the coach of an all black basketball team (Terrence Howard) instills confidence in his team by reminding them that their opponents are white, and therefore automatically inferior basketball players.
The single stupidest short involves trademarked superheroes speed dating in a bar. Robin (Justin Long) has meetings with Lois Lane (Uma Thurman) and Supergirl (Kristen Bell), while Batman (Jason Sudeikis) keeps butting in with his obnoxious behavior and unbelievably foul language. All the actors in this skit wear costumes that are one notch below cheap imitations; kids wouldn’t be caught dead in them on Halloween. The single most offensive short tells the story of a mom and dad (Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber) that homeschool their teenage son (Jeremy Allen White); to give him “the full high school experience,” they bully and humiliate him in the most obscene ways. They even want him to go through the awkwardness of his first sexual encounter, and yes, both mom and dad involve themselves in role-playing scenarios.
In searching for the meaning of the film’s title, I came across a webpage with the following quote, attributed to R. Allendy: “While 34, even, expresses the static influence of the cycle on the cosmic organization, its reverse 43, odd, has to express the dynamic influence of the organization – or the free activity – which is 3, on the permanent mechanism of the cosmic cycles, 40.” Realizing I had taken a wrong turn, I went back to the film’s Wikipedia page and counted the number of actors that appear in major roles, hoping it would stop at forty-three. Alas, it went up to forty-five. I officially gave up at that point. While it’s true that Movie 43 is exactly what it was advertised as being, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a God-awful, no good, vile, revolting, sophomoric, insensitive, despicable, inexcusable pile of garbage. There are some quandaries I don’t stay in for very long.
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