I'm a big fan of sketch comedy. I've been watching Saturday Night Live (for better or worse) for almost as many years as it has been on TV, and in that span of time I've also enjoyed everything from Second City TV to MAD TV, and from The Kids in the Hall to Robot Chicken. I like the format for several reasons, but what I like about it most is the fact that if a sketch isn't funny, there's a new one coming along in minutes.
But those are TV shows. What about movies?
Well, sketch comedy hasn’t had the same success on the big screen as it has had on the small. Historically, sketch comedy movies have ranged from bad (1975’s The Boob Tube) to mediocre (1977’s The Kentucky Fried Movie), with Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983) as the rare great standout. So with a lot of chances to make me laugh (11 sketches in all) and with a very low historical bar to clear, Movie 43 had the relatively simple task of finding a spot somewhere below Python but above everything else.
It turns out the only thing simpler than being mediocre is being the worst of all time, and being the worst of all time is exactly where Movie 43 succeeds. In fact, this is not only the worst sketch comedy offering I’ve ever seen, it is in contention for the worst MOVIE I have ever seen.
Every sketch fails to garner a single laugh. It’s remarkable, really. The law of large numbers suggests that with 11 sketches and a boatload of talent in front of, and behind, the camera, surely SOMETHING will be funny. Nothing is. And the sketches are strung together by a dreadfully unfunny plot about three teens searching the Internet for a film that is so offensive that it has been banned from everywhere (this is an alternate version of the US theatrical release, which featured Dennis Quaid as a screenwriter pitching ideas to a movie executive played by Greg Kinnear; both versions are available on the Blu-ray).
I’ll summarize each of the sketches with the note that there will be spoilers, which in this case I prefer to call “fair warnings” …
“The Catch” stars Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman. Winslet is set up on a blind date with Jackman, who has a pair of testicles hanging from under his chin. No one else in the restaurant seems to notice this, even when he accidentally gets vichyssoise on them.
In “Homeschooled,” Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts are parents who have taken homeschooling to such an extreme that they recreate the entire high school experience for their son, including bullying him (dad), socially ostracizing him (mom and dad), and getting him to several physical firsts (mom).
“The Proposition” stars Anna Faris and Chris Pratt. On the one-year anniversary of their relationship, Pratt has something to propose, as does Faris. He wants to propose marriage, but she beats him to the punch and proposes he defecate on her for sexual arousal. The sketch also features J.B. Smoove who coins the phrase “poop Viagra.”
Director Griffin Dunne’s “Veronica” stars Kieran Culkin as a third-shift grocery store clerk. His ex-girlfriend, played by Emma Stone, comes in and the two argue. That argument turns into a sexually overcharged conversation … all of which is picked up by the microphone at Culkin’s register and broadcast across the market.
In “iBabe,” Richard Gere is the CEO of a company that manufactures the most popular MP3 player on the market - popular because it is a life-sized naked woman. The company faces a crisis, though, as the player’s cooling fan is located in the woman’s genital area, and men are having their members, well, dismembered when they try to use the player for sex. Playing some of Gere’s employees are Kate Bosworth, Aasif Mandvi, and Jack McBrayer.
“Superhero Speed Dating” is exactly as the title suggests. In this case, Robin (Justin Long) is at a speed-dating event where he meets the likes of Lois Lane (Uma Thurman) and Supergirl (Kristen Bell). But Batman (Jason Sudekis) is the Obnoxious Knight here and continues to ruin things for the Boy Wonder. The sketch also features John Hodgman as Penguin.
Jimmy Bennett and Chloe Grace Moretz star in “Middleschool Date.” The two youngsters are enjoying their date until Moretz begins her first menstrual cycle. Then their fathers get involved.
“Happy Birthday” stars Johnny Knoxville, who captures a leprechaun (Gerard Butler) to give to his friend (Seann William Scott) for his birthday. The leprechaun’s brother (Butler again) makes a rescue attempt. Violence ensues.
A game of “Truth or Dare” goes to radical extremes when Stephen Merchant and Halle Berry are on a first date and bored by the usual first date trappings. Look for everything from face tattoos to breasts in guacamole.
“Victory’s Glory” features Terrence Howard as a 1950s-era coach giving a pep talk to his all-black basketball team as they get ready to face their all-white opponent. The team lacks confidence no matter how hard Howard tries to convince them that they will win because they are black and it’s basketball. Really.
Finally there is “Beezel,” starring Elizabeth Banks as Josh Duhamel’s girlfriend. As they’re relationship gets serious, Duhamel’s pet cat (which is animated) grows jealous of Banks and sabotages their relationship. Highlights include the cat spraying Banks with urine with the force and volume of a fire hydrant, as well as the cat masturbating to photos of Duhamel and dry-humping a stuffed animal.
With its nudity-for-nudity’s sake, its jokes about poop and testicles and menstruation, and its masturbating animated cat, it’s like the film spilled out of the mind of a 12-year-old boy - a very stupid 12-year-old-boy.
Let me be clear, though; I’m no prude. When it comes to comedy, I sincerely believe that nothing is off limits, no matter how outrageous. While there are things that I might not joke about for personal reasons, if someone else jokes about them, that doesn’t bother me, but it has to be funny. Movie 43 isn’t funny at all and the reason that it isn’t funny at all is that it mistakes outrageousness for humor, and fails to understand that something that shocks usually doesn’t have sustainability.
Take the first sketch. Does the sight of testicles hanging under Hugh Jackman’s chin solicit a visceral response? Yes it does, whether that’s a gasp or a wince or even a short guffaw. But after the initial shock, there is nothing about it to sustain laughter. It becomes an exercise in trying to do another shocking thing, then another, then another. Each skit is structured like this, and the entire film is structured like this, and it fails.
Unfortunately, two very small bright spots in the film - a pair of faux commercials - are simply buried. It’s not like looking for two needles in a haystack, it’s like looking for two pennies in a bin of medical waste. The first is the black-and-white “Machine Kids,” which has children performing tasks inside machines we use every day (copiers and such), and when adults grow angry at the machines for failing, it directly affects the kids’ emotions. The other is called “Tampax” and features a sudden and violent end to a woman who goes swimming in the ocean while on her period. I think these work well because each concept is high and each result is far shorter than even sketch-length.
What is also baffling to me is how the filmmakers managed to wrangle this level of talent into something that is so awful. If one or two big names appear in something like this, you might dismiss it as doing a favor for a friend or trying to make a little more money (although the budget was only $6MM). But there are too many big names here for all of them to be explained away. Nine of the actors and actresses I mention above (Jackman, Winslet, Schreiber, Watts, Stone, Gere, Thurman, Berry, and Howard) combine for 12 Oscar nominations (two of which were winners) and 27 Golden Globe nods (seven of which were winners). Say what you will about using awards as units of measure, it’s hard to argue against that kind of volume.
Someone in Hollywood has Polaroids of these people. Of this I am convinced.
From an audio-visual perspective, the Blu-ray sound and picture are both fine. Along with the Blu-ray, the package comes with a DVD version, as well as a digital download. There is only one extra, which is a deleted scene called “Find Our Daughter.” It features Tony Shaloub and Julianne Moore as parents who are searching for their 18-year-old daughter (Jordanna Taylor) whose last known whereabouts are documented on a “Girls Gone Wild” type of DVD. Shaloub seems unhealthily interested in watching his daughter flash her breasts during Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Just one more bag of medical waste to sift through.
Even if this film is available to you for free, it will cost you 94 minutes of your time, and it isn’t even worth that.