Judge Patrick Bromley wonders what the first 42 were like.
The biggest cast ever assembled for the most outrageous comedy ever made.
In production for several years and boasting an incredible cast of Oscar winners doing broad, crude comedy, Movie 43 was dumped into theaters in January 2013 to the most scathing reviews of the year. Some critics have called the movie one of the worst ever made. Were they right? Is Movie 43 really as bad as everyone says?
Facts of the Case
In the tradition of The Kentucky Fried Movie and Amazon Women on the Moon comes Movie 43, a sketch movie made up of a dozen or so short segments from different writers and directors. The movie's wraparound story involves a despondent screenwriter (Dennis Quaid, In Good Company) who holds a studio executive (Greg Kinnear, As Good As It Gets) at gunpoint as he pitches a series of ideas. Among them are:
• A couple (Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber) who homeschool their son make sure that he gets the "full" high school experience.
• A girl (Chloe Grace Moretz, (500) Days of Summer) gets her period while at her boyfriend's house.
• A blind date between two strangers (Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant, Hall Pass) escalates into an insane game of truth or dare.
• A basketball coach (Terrence Howard, Iron Man) tries to motivate his team by reminding them that they are black.
• A woman (Elizabeth Banks, Man on a Ledge) is terrorized by her boyfriend's cartoon cat.
Movie 43 has gotten an unfair rap. Is it a good movie? Hardly. Is it the worst movie ever made? Hell no. It's not even the worst movie to come out this year.
The thing that many critics failed to recognize when accusing the movie of being vulgar and stupid is that those are the two qualities the film strives for. It wants nothing less than to offend. It's as though Peter Farrelly, the unofficial "godfather" of the whole project, wanted to make for gross-out comedy what The Human Centipede is for horror films—a movie that pushes the genre past the breaking point of taste, decency and logic. This is a movie filled wall-to-wall with menstrual blood, feces, incest, exposed genitals, semen, naked women—you name it, there's probably a whole segment devoted to it. Too many of them are unable to come up with anything beyond that single gross-out idea. The first sketch, in which Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman go on a date, offers nothing but the sight of Jackman with testicles dangling from his neck. That's the joke. I suppose the very thought of two Oscar-nominated actors appearing in something so base and silly is meant to get more mileage than it does—a criticism that could be leveled against a number of the sketches in the movie.
The thing about "sketch" movies like this one is that they're always going to be uneven—particularly when the sketches are written and directed by a number of different people over a long span of time. Now you've got a multitude of voices combining together into something that's supposed to cohere into one single tone. All that happens is that every piece tries to outdo every other one, and inside each segment is at least one thing guaranteed to offend someone. It's too bad so few of the people involved wanted to think bigger. There's nothing very subversive about Movie 43 except how dirty it is for an R-rated studio comedy and how many A-list stars were roped into something this silly and stupid.
Some of the sketches fare better than others. Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber's bit as parents who give their homeschooled son the full high school experience is funny at first, but by the time Watts is making out with her own teenage son, you have to respect its willingness to double down on the bit. The Batman and Robin speed dating sequence has a number of decent jokes and gets a great deal of mileage out of Jason Sudeikis' ability to play an obnoxious douche. The Brett Ratner-directed "Happy Birthday" (featuring The Dukes of Hazzard movie reunion no one was asking for) starts stupid and gets even stupider, but there's something gleeful about how crazy and violent it gets. Elizabeth Banks directs "Middleschool Date" and seems to want to say something about men's fearful and confused reactions towards female physiology, but isn't sure what it is or how to say it. Then there is "Machine Kids," the best sketch in the film and one that's truly funny. Too bad it's almost a total throwaway.
Movie 43 arrives in an "Outrageous Edition" courtesy of Fox. Usually, these "_________" editions indicate some sort of bonus features or unrated cut. Not the case here. The "Outrageous" edition is really just the theatrical cut of the movie, presented in a 1080p HD transfer that's bright and clean and colorful, but pretty generic. The film was shot digitally, so nothing about the Blu-ray transfer suggests "film," and the photography is bright and boring and looks a little like a TV series. It's a fine transfer, but nothing special. The 5.1 DTS HD audio track delivers the dialogue and music cues in a satisfying way, but there's nothing about the film's sonic presentation that's ambitious or inventive.
The big appeal of the "Outrageous Edition" is that it offers two separate cuts of the movie. The only thing that's different about both versions is the wraparound story; the alternate cut has none of the Quaid/Kinnear stuff, instead focusing on a group of kids who are searching viral videos in search of the elusive "Movie 43," the watching of which will bring about the apocalypse. It makes more sense in terms of each short film being outrageous, but nothing about the shorts have been constructed as viral videos and the wraparounds are mostly unfunny. Very little works about the Quaid/Kinner bits, but they actually work better than the wraparound on the alternate cut. Still, it's cool that Fox has included that version here.
The only other bonus feature is a deleted scene starring Julianne Moore and Tony Shaloub and directed by Bob Odenkirk. The mind reels that a short with that pedigree be deleted just on principal, to say nothing of the fact that it's a good deal funnier than several bits that made the cut. It should have been in the movie. Then again, considering the reception and reputation that Movie 43 has received, maybe Moore, Shaloub and Odenkirk all feel like they dodged a bullet. A standard definition DVD copy and a digital copy of the movie are also included.
When the "Worst of" lists begin appearing at the end of 2013, there's no doubt that Movie 43 will appear on a lot of them. I'm not sure I agree. It's not a very funny movie (a bad sign for a comedy), but it achieves its goal of, in the words of Mel Brooks, rising below bad taste. You don't need to seek it out, but if you can someday catch the right 10 minutes on cable, you probably won't feel like you wasted your time. Just know when it's time to walk away.
Not the worst movie ever made, but not very good, either.
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