Thursday, December 05, 2013

Film Review: Movie 43 (2013)

Halle Berry (pictured) discovers that Catwoman is no longer the biggest mistake she's ever made.
There are many different kinds of bad film, with no single genre being immune from producing absolute crap, but far and away the worse kind of bad movie is a bad comedy. This is for the simple reason that if a drama or a horror film is bad, you can at least laugh at how badly it fails to function on even its most basic level. Mystery Science Theater 3000 spent a decade demonstrating that fact by turning bad horror, science fiction and drama into comedy. On the other hand, if a comedy doesn't make you laugh, then there's really no good way to respond to it. All you can do is sit there and pray that it ends soon.

Such is the case with Movie 43, an all-star anthology film full of immensely talented people who should all feel thoroughly ashamed of themselves, and who should have "Willingly appeared in Movie 43" underneath their name on every trailer and poster for all their subsequent work from now until the day the sun explodes. Conceived by Peter Farrelly of the Farrelly Brothers (Dumb and Dumber, There's Something About Mary) fame, the film is a series of sketches, each representing part of a pitch being made by a film director (Dennis Quaid) to a studio executive (Greg Kinnear). As the film progresses, Quaid gets more and more desperate, going so far as to point a gun at Kinnear in an attempt to get him to buy the script. Considering how awful the sketches are, it's easy to imagine that Farrelly used very similar tactics to get some of the people involved to take part.

That, or he has some very incriminating evidence secreted in a drawer somewhere. What other explanation is there for why Kate Winslet (yes, Oscar winner and arguably best actress of her generation Kate Winslet) would agree to appear in a sketch where she plays a woman who goes on a date with a man (Hugh Jackman) who has testicles growing out of his neck? That set-up might sound like it has potential for some outrageous gross-out humour, but in reality it's just weird and off-putting. The testicles just sort of hang there and the film does nothing with them.

That pretty much sums up the experience of watching the film. Farrelly and his co-directors, a group which includes the likes of Griffin Dunne, Elizabeth Banks and James Gunn, present ideas which seem like they could be put to some good use in the right hands, then squander the considerable talent on display with lame, scattershot (and scatological) gags that go nowhere. They either use up all their comedic potential within the first thirty seconds before continuing for five joyless minutes, such as a recurring sketch about an iPod designed to look like a naked woman, or they escalate the joke so quickly that the sketch loses all momentum, such as one in which Stephen Merchant and Halle Berry play a couple who go on a blind date and engage in an increasingly bizarre game of truth or dare. That one pretty much starts with Berry using one of her naked breasts to mix a bowl of guacamole, which is such an outlandish point to reach that the sketch has pretty much nowhere to go, yet soldiers on beyond all reason.

What's most galling about Movie 43 is that it purports to be an outrageous spectacle, but it doesn't even work as an exercise in bad taste. There's nothing particularly outré about its subject matter, certainly nothing that John Waters wasn't doing decades ago or South Park hasn't been doing for years, with most of its jokes being very obvious takes on staid, safe subjects like young men not understanding how menstruation works or taking superheroes and making them say rude words. Its toilet humour is terribly juvenile, both in content and intent, with not even the slightest attempt to make some point beyond its own "ooh, aren't we being naughty!" demeanour. There's no greater point behind, for example, Gerard Butler playing a foul-mouthed Leprechaun or Chris Pratt violently shitting himself after being hit by a car other than the act itself. That pointlessness might be fine if the sketches were funny, but since they aren't then there's no real reason for the film to exist. If you can't use humour to make people laugh, then at the very least it should shock or provoke - Movie 43 fails across the board at any of these things because of how utterly dull and banal its jokes and its targets are.

The closest the film gets to a solid, well-executed sketch is one in which Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts play a couple who home school their son, even going so far as to bully and abuse him to ensure that he has the full high school experience. Neither actor is particularly adept when it comes to comedy, though Schreiber has a harshness to him that fits the part of a father who ritually humiliates his own son, so the concept never becomes anything more than a decent premise. Still, it's pretty much the only part of the film that doesn't completely blow its load after a couple of seconds (then sit in the mess for far too long) and it goes to a genuinely weird, creepy place that, while not particularly funny, emerges naturally from the situation. It's the one part of the film that could be taken out of context and which would work well enough, or which could be easily salvaged by giving it to people who are funny.

If it wasn't such a wretched waste of time and light, I'd almost recommend Movie 43, but only for the same reasons that people pass on the videotape in The Ring; I've had to watch this, and I can't be only one who has to suffer through it. It's such a horribly dull, unfunny and vapid experience that it's almost fascinating as an example of how to most effectively waste a huge store of talent - other actors featured in the film include Emma Stone, Kieran Culkin, J.B. Smoove, Jack McBrayer, John Hodgman, Justin Long, Kristen Bell, Bobby Cannavale, and a bunch of other people who really should know better - in the shortest amount of time. And it is short: a full 15 of the 94 minute running time is taken up by the credits, which leaves you with 80 of the most laughfree minutes you are likely to see in a film this year, even though they feel like 800.

Grade: F