If you go into Movie 43 with low enough expectations, there are one or two actual laughs, several kind-of chuckles, some smiles, and a bunch of headshakes at what director, Peter Farrelly, actually decided to actually film and actually put together into a movie that is actually released in theaters. It’s exciting that there’s a “comedy anthology” film in theaters, and that the star power might be enough to knock skeptics off of their narrative high-horse for an hour and a half or so. Sometimes silly is important, and gross and gratuitous is hilarious, and sketches and commercial parodies are art. But if Movie 43 was truly aiming for the style of classics like Kentucky Fried Movie, it would be funnier.
The vignettes, sketches, and commercial parodies star celebs like Halle Berry, Richard Gere, Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber, Kate Winslet, and Hugh Jackman. Then there are also comedy people, like Stephen Merchant, Matt Walsh, Jason Sudeikis, Jack McBrayer, Elizabeth Banks, Chris Pratt, and Anna Faris. There are more, but I’m going to stop listing them because words probably mean nothing to you by now. There are a lot of people who agreed to do this.
The shorts are loosely tethered together by a lazy, meta plotline involving an insane and desperate filmmaker (Dennis Quaid) pitching a movie, but really just pitching these sketches, to a producer (Greg Kinnear). It’s lazy because of things like this: after the first commercial parody, it cuts back to Dennis Quaid explaining that, “There are commercials right there in the movie!” Why is that necessary? Why?! If you want to include commercial parodies, do it! Don’t explain it away. It makes just as much sense that there are commercials in the movie as it does that there is a crazy man pitching a bunch of shorts, so just let it go. And that’s the most disappointing thing about Movie 43. Every short is entirely disconnected from one another, so disconnected that they are directed by different people (Elizabeth Banks, Brett Ratner, Steve Carr, Griffin Dunne, and more), which seems like a fun idea. However, that means that with each one standing completely on its own, there’s no clever crossover, nothing self-referential, and no thematic consistency. Not that comedy anthologies are necessarily known for being elegant journeys through breathing, symbiotic, comedic ecosystems, but a little cleverness would have been nice.
There are a whole bunch of poop jokes and fairly juvenile, scatological humor throughout. Some of it works. In the first short, Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman go on a blind date, and it’s revealed that he has a large pair of testicles hanging from his neck. No one seems to notice, except for Kate Winslet, and it’s because of the realistic way she has to deal with interacting with this guy who doesn’t know he has a scrotum-neck that it’s actually funny. As a whole, though, Movie 43 is not really gross enough to be dismissed as a nasty shock-fest, but it’s not smart enough with its poop jokes to completely forgive them. When sketches don’t work, it’s because they lean on the fact that it’s Gerard Butler’s face on a leprechaun or Richard Gere saying, “Fuck!” And the “celebrity out of his/her comfort zone” isn’t enough, unless he or she plays it with charming straight-faced grace, like Mr. Jackman…and his neck balls.
Most of the movie is made up of sketches that seem like they would have been rejected from Saturday Night Live and/or would have aired on MADtv, if MADtv had a lot of money, could use bad words, and was still on the air. One commercial/PSA, however, was so great, even Lorne Michaels would have probably said, “Okey, eh,” (you know, because he’s Canadian). It has to do with the machines we use in everyday life, and often get mad at: vending machines, ATMs, copiers. The sketch implores us all to be respectful, to stop kicking and punching the machines when they don’t seem to be working because there are sad, lonely children who work inside them.
Movie 43 is already one of those movies that has segments that seem funnier when you’re describing them to someone than they seemed when you were actually watching it. But Neck Balls and Kid Machines, the names I made up for the sketches I described in detail, were the only two that felt at least mostly successful, and even then, because they were surrounded by others that didn’t work and were interwoven with a weird running plotline, they got bogged down. Here’s to hoping that Movie 43 at least rejuvenates the comedy anthology concept and paves the way for smarter, funnier versions of itself.