Directed by: Elizabeth Banks, Steven Brill, Steve Carr, Rusty Cundieff, James Duffy, Griffin Dunne, Peter Farrelly, Patrik Forsberg, James Gunn, Bob Odenkirk, Brett Ratner, Jonathan van Tulleken
Premise: A desperate producer (Dennis Quaid) pitches a series of outrageous movie ideas to a studio executive (Greg Kinnear). The movie consists of vignettes that play out each idea.
What Works: Movie 43 is best understood less as a narrative motion picture and more like a skit-based television show such as Saturday Night Live or The Kids in the Hall but with a hard-R sense of humor. When understood in that way the movie does work, at least conceptually. The film begins and ends with a wraparound in which a would-be producer pitches various ideas to a Hollywood executive and that gives Movie 43 some context that allows the audience to make sense of what they are watching. The body of the film consists of eleven segments, each running less than ten minutes, and at the very least each section manages to differentiate itself from the others with original concepts and different filmmaking styles. The vignettes are unified by the filmmakers’ use of comedic shock and awe. The scenarios are funny, at least briefly, and the film has an added punch with its cast of high profile actors who wouldn’t normally be associated with grotesque humor. Movie 43 has some familiar comedic faces like Anna Faris, Jason Sudeikis, and Seann William Scott but it also features esteemed actors like Richard Gere, Kate Winslet, and Naomi Watts. In that respect, the fact that Movie 43 exists at all is impressive.
What Doesn’t: The problem with Movie 43 is that the premise is much better than the content. This is a classic case of all the best bits existing in the trailer (or in this case, the R-rated red-band trailer). The humor of Movie 43 comes down to two elements: gross out jokes and the high profile actors participating in them. The picture generally fails on both accounts. The quality of the scenarios and gags varies from short to short but in every case the moviemakers introduce a comic idea that in itself is funny for about thirty seconds but then they fail to develop that idea. A frequent complaint of feature films adapted from Saturday Night Live skits is that they usually exhaust their comic potential after the first half hour. In Movie 43 each premise goes flaccid in about two minutes. As funny as these ideas may be at first, the filmmakers never go for anything beyond the obvious and the movie suffers from a lack of imagination. The filmmakers seem to think they can get away with just being crude but the movie comes up short. Ten years ago Movie 43 might have sailed on audacity alone but after Scary Movie, Borat, and The Hangover, the threshold for grotesque comedy has been pushed to such a level that this film comes off as tame and mediocre. And because it shows so little imagination, the filmmakers ultimately waste their impressive cast. No one is given anything interesting to do. The movie puts foul language in the mouths of actors like Richard Gere and Kate Winslet but they’ve had more outrageous parts in better movies like American Gigolo or Heavenly Creatures. The whole picture is an underwhelming experience that isn’t creative, daring, subversive, or even funny. Despite the self-conscious effort to offend, the defining feature of this movie is how boring it is.
Bottom Line: Movie 43 works better as a trailer than as a feature film. It isn’t nearly as humorous or as audacious as it ought to be.
Episode: #425 (February 3, 2013)