"Movie 43" Even Less Inspired Than Its Name

Cancel next year’s Razzies. The race is over. Just three weeks into 2013, “Movie 43” already has a vise-like death grip on any and all “worst of” lists or awards for this calendar year, let alone the decade. Much of its high profile cast is justifiably embarrassed by the project, as few have acknowledged the film in the press. And while that silence (and the January release date) speaks volumes, silence isn’t enough. I suspect we’ll eventually hear mea culpas from the likes of Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Richard Gere, Greg Kinnear, and others – the project, a loose assemblage of short films, was filmed haphazardly over the course of four years – but each apology will be far too late. If you’re going to go out of your way to be this offensive, you better damn well be funny. “Movie 43” almost never is, and at times it displays an almost alarming level of contempt for its audience. If there’s any justice in this world, some of its participants will lose work over their contributions here.

It’s impossible to write about “Movie 43” as a singular entity, so please allow me to break the film down, short by short, so you can skip the 90% of the film that’s entirely unredeemable. “The Pitch” loosely ties each short film together. Dennis Quaid plays a failed screenwriter pitching a bizarre, nonsensical film to a studio exec, Greg Kinnear, eventually forcing him, at gunpoint, to listen to the remainder of his proposal. It’s such an apt metaphor for the picture itself that I have to believe it was an unknowing one. As we weave in and out of different scenes, rapper Common and Seth McFarlane make humorless cameos as Quaid’s character is pushed to his breaking point.

The first of these scenes, “The Catch,” features Kate Winslet on a first date with Hugh Jackman, the latter playing a dreamy magazine cover model who’s fawned over by everyone but his date. You see, he removes his scarf and it’s revealed that – wait for it – he has testicles growing out of his neck. That’s the joke. For ten painful minutes. Of course, it’s taken to gross extremes – Jackman is a sloppy eater, har har – but the most offensive part about the sequence is that it’s been done at least twice before, both in “Men In Black II” and “South Park.”

“Homeschooled,” starring real-life couple Live Schreiber and Naomi Watts, is the funniest portion of the film. They play parents who are homeschooling their teenage son, but instead of sheltering him, they long to give him “the full high school experience.” Of course, this means they bully, humiliate, and abuse him, and their cruel hazing is amusing until it’s taken way too far. Still, this bit could have been a modest viral hit, and compared to the rest of “Movie 43,” it’s an absolute gem.

“The Proposition,” starring Anna Faris and Chris Pratt, is one overlong, patience-testing excrement joke. Don’t worry, there are plenty of burrito and laxative references! “Veronica,” with Kieran Culkin and Emma Stone, makes no impact at all. The two spend their five minutes of screen time sharing bizarre sexual secrets over the loudspeaker of a grocery store. “iBabe” stars Richard Gere as an executive who doesn’t understand why his company’s mp3 player – shaped like a lifesize naked woman – is crippling young men with its poor fan placement. Insert facepalm here. “Super Hero Speed Dating” features Justin Long, Jason Sudeikis, Kristen Bell, Uma Thurman and others in a “Saturday Night Live” reject sketch about superheroes – or weirdos in low-rent Halloween costumes – saying idiotic things to each other while, you guessed it, speed dating. It’s dead on arrival.

The picture’s most inspired bit, “Machine Kids,” is a faux-PSA about how we should be nicer to printers and vending machines and other frustrating contraptions because there are child laborers living inside them. Wait a few months and catch it in all its peculiar glory on YouTube. “Middleschool Date,” helmed by Elizabeth Banks, is an insipid, laugh-free short about how guys don’t know what to do when girls get their periods. “Happy Birthday,” directed by the critically-adored Brett Ratner and featuring Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott in a “Dukes Of Hazzard” reunion – no, we haven’t hit bottom yet – features Gerard Butler as a Leprechaun who confronts the duo over God knows what. Eventually, after multiple Lucky Charms jokes, Knoxville shoots the Leprechauns dead and we move on to the next short.

“Truth Or Dare,” starring Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant, is almost palatable. As two blind-daters, they get themselves into a game of truth or dare that escalates to absurd levels. It’s over-the-top, but it feels like a scene out of a much better film. Terrence Howard leads “Victory’s Glory,” a short about a 60s-era basketball team that doesn’t grasp their coach’s pre-game motivational speech – “They’re white. You’re black!” Rinse and repeat for ten minutes. The final short, written and directed by James Gunn, stars Josh Duhamel, Elizabeth Banks, and an animated cat. Duhamel’s character has a decidedly intimate relationship with his aggressively perverted pet cat, much to the chagrin of Banks. It’s gross and violent and patently unfunny, and it’s unfathomable to me that Marvel has given Gunn the reigns to one of their franchises, “Guardians Of The Galaxy.” His pre-“Movie 43” resume wasn’t particularly deserving of the job, but this short film is absolutely wince-inducing.

The Farrelly Brothers, who oversaw the entire project, will come out of “Movie 43” relatively unscathed. They’ve developed plenty of goodwill through “Dumb And Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary.” This won’t end their careers. But for some of the cast and crew with more unsteady roles in Hollywood? This is the kind of project that won’t soon be erased from memory. It’s so strikingly, soul-crushingly awful that it could cost Hugh Jackman as Oscar (we’ve seen it happen to Eddie Murphy with “Norbit”) and gifted actors like Winslet and Gere might not be allowed near anything remotely comedic ever again. I want to be embarrassed for everyone involved in this one, but it’s so aggressively dreadful that no one deserves a pass. If there’s one silver lining here? Maybe, just maybe, this will put Brett Ratner out of work for good.

-J. Olson

Rating: 1/2 ★ out of ★★★★★ (Garbage)

Release Date: January 25, 2013
Studio: Relativity Media
Director: Steven Brill, Peter Farrelly, Will Graham, Steve Carr, Griffin Dunne, James Duffy, Jonathan Van Tulleken, Elizabeth Banks, Patrik Forsberg, Brett Ratner, Rusty Cundieff, James Gunn
Screenwriter: Will Carlough, Tobias Carlson, Jacob Fleisher, Patrik Forsberg, Will Graham, James Gunn, Claes Kjellström, Jack Kukoda, Bill O’Malley, Matthew Portenoy, Greg Pritikin, Rocky Russo, Olle Sarri, Elizabeth Shapiro, Jeremy Sosenko, Jonathan Van Tulleken, Jonas Wittenmark, Ricky Blitt
Starring: Elizabeth Banks, Kristen Bell, Halle Berry, Leslie Bibb, Kate Bosworth, Gerard Butler, Bobby Cannavale, Common, Kieran Culkin, Josh Duhamel, Anna Faris, Richard Gere, John Hodgman, Terrence Howard, Hugh Jackman, Greg Kinnear, Johnny Knoxville, Justin Long, Stephen Merchant, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloë Grace Moretz, Chris Pratt, Dennis Quaid, Liev Schreiber, Seann William Scott, Emma Stone, Jason Sudeikis, Uma Thurman, Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet
MPAA Rating: R (for strong pervasive crude and sexual content including dialogue, graphic nudity, language, some violence and drug use)