‘Movie 43’ review: star-studded comedy anthology a mystifying experience

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A parade of Saturday Night Live-style skits that intends to shock you with poor taste, Movie 43 is missing just one thing: the jokes. Movies like this (sketch comedy a la the classic Kentucky Fried Movie or the underrated The Ten) are inherently hit or miss, but this one is barely even trying at the script level; why bother writing funny material when you’re just going to throw shit at the screen. Literally

But an R-rated comedy promoting itself as sick, disgusting, and unwatchable (the film’s tagline is “once you see it, you can’t unsee it”) to a generation raised on the internet will inevitably fail to meet expectations. Nudity is at a minimum, violence is nil, and the explosions of diarrhea are few and far between. Instead, the film offends with naughty language and a warped sensibility, which is to say it won’t offend its target audience at all. 

But Movie 43 does have one thing going for it: an incredible ensemble cast featuring (at a guess) around 43 familiar names and faces. We usually expect Marlon Wayans, Chris Elliot, and David Koechner in these films (and that’s if we’re lucky), but here’s Halle Berry blowing out the candles on a blind kid’s birthday cake, Naomi Watts making out with her teenage son, Gerard Butler playing not one, but two leprechauns, and Hugh Jackman grossing out Kate Winslet with a… prosthetic that must be seen to be believed. 

Of course, all these stars are still at the service of a screenplay that doesn’t understand the setup/payoff concept of telling a joke. Every skit here is precisely a one-joke affair in which the premise may be worth a chuckle, and then we have to wait seven or eight minutes while they beat it into the ground. That reminds me of something else; if you ever wanted to see an episode of SNL composed entirely of guest hosts, here’s your chance. 

At least the skits with the stars have the one joke. The wraparound segment – featuring a couple of potheads (Mark L. Young and Adam Cagley) and a younger brother (Devin Eash), and their search for a mysterious banned movie – doesn’t even have that: it easily takes up more time than any of the other skits, and is entirely humorless (the closest thing to a joke here is when the potheads identify Amsterdam as a country; this is such a comedic height for the material that it is actually referenced again later in the film). 

But this may – or may not – not be the wraparound segment you will see. According to producer (and co-director) Peter Farrelly, it was scrapped at the last minute for a new one starring Seth MacFarlane, and Greg Kinnear, and Dennis Quaid as a Hollywood producer. That sounds much better, but alas, the version of the film with the old wraparound was the one screened for local journalists on Monday. 

As for the star-studded skits, they’re hit-and-miss, of course, but I probably chuckled a few more times than I’d like to admit. The best one, ironically, doesn’t feature any of the name actors: it’s a 30-second PSA for machines. 

11 (or 12) directors handled each segment separately over the course of a few years, from mainstream comedy vets Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary), Steven Brill (Drillbit Taylor), Steve Carr (Paul Blart: Mall Cop), and Brett Ratner (Rush Hour), to actress Elizabeth Banks, making her directorial debut. 

The directors here, rather than the cast, should give you an idea of what to expect. One of the more bizarre pieces, about an animated cat terrorizing Banks while fantasizing about raping Josh Duhamel, was directed by James Gunn (coming off the excellent Super). 

One of the film’s better segments comes towards the end, with Terence Howard instructing a black basketball team on how to beat their white opponent. “They’re black, you’re white,” is the single joke here, and it goes on for over five minutes, but Howard can play incredulity like few others; he’s a hoot. Another segment, featuring a bizarre conversation between Emma Stone and Kieran Culkin, also manages a couple quick laughs. 

No doubt, this type of comedy has an audience, and it’s certainly not the worst of its kind; if you’re attracted to this film by the cast rather than the material, however, I can only warn you to stay far away. Maybe it’ll play better with the new wraparound segment; let me know if you see it in Czech cinemas – I doubt I’ll risk finding out. 

Movie 43

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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