I make it a point to seek out the good in all things. Whether I’m looking at a film/show/etc. as a critic or a scholar, I try my damnedest to find a positive spin on the text. But sometimes, it’s just not possible. However, even then, I always try to accentuate the positive. That’s why, when I reviewed the Farrelly Brothers’ The Three Stooges some time back, I emphasized that Sean Hayes was often quite funny it and stressed that while the film is surely not funny, I did actually laugh twice– something I surmise many other critics wouldn’t be brave enough to admit. But why am I telling you this when the title of this article clearly demarcates it as a review of the anthology “comedy,” Movie 43? I tell you this so that it’s perfectly clear that for as much as I might stress the positive aspects of the film herein, it is actually still really, really bad.
I approached Movie 43 knowing full-well its reputation with audiences and critics alike, having notoriously received a whopping 4% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Overcome by morbid curiosity and the challenge of finding something good to say of a movie about which other critics have had virtually nothing good to say, I readily and willingly opted to take on Movie 43! And while it is absolutely every bit the train wreck people have built it up to be, I actually found myself acknowledging a surprising number of decent jokes as my wife (the trooper) and I powered through the thing.
The problem is that, for every joke that’s actually pretty funny, there are another half dozen or more surrounding it that are so irksomely unfunny that it’s virtually impossible to laugh at all but the funniest one or two bits throughout. For example, “Homeschooled,” the second of the segments featured in Movie 43 (apart from the wraparound segment), is actually an all-around amusing concept and is fairly well executed at that, with Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber killing in their respective roles. However, the segment immediately follows Peter Farrelly’s “The Catch,” which follows a woman (Kate Winslet) on a blind date with a man who has a pair of testicles on his neck (Hugh Jackman). That’s the entire joke there. Seriously. And honestly, the 5-10 minutes you’ll spend not laughing at that can only adversely affect your reaction to “Homeschooled,” because it’s incredibly difficult to start finding a movie funny once you’ve decided it absolutely is not funny. It takes a bit of time and a lot of funny for a movie to come back from that, and the thing about Movie 43 is that there’s always a heap of not funny waiting just around the corner.
The really upsetting thing about Movie 43 is that it so often feels like the writers weren’t even trying to be funny, like the movie was one big first draft. And while I could easily point to “The Proposition” (in which a woman asks her boyfriend to poop on her) or “iBabe” (in which a company produces an iPod in the form of a nude woman) as the most disgustingly lazy of the segments, “Superhero Speed Dating” stands out to me as the single most uninspired. The segment is an utterly failed attempt to parody characters of the DC Comics universe by placing them in a speed dating situation. However, the writing here demonstrates only a passing knowledge of these characters and substitutes stale sex jokes for the specificity of references that’s so key to successful parody. (As if highlighting the laziness of this approach, there’s even one reference to Superman’s orgasms that’s been all but directly lifted from Mallrats.) And it’s really a shame too, because opening a sketch with Batman and Robin offers an incredible wealth of possibilities as the characters bring with them nearly 75 years of content from which a writer might draw, but in its persistent reliance on cheap sexual humor, the segment fails to live up to its initial promise.
And that’s really the story of Movie 43 in a nutshell: it’s a failed promise. There’s a lot of talent attached to this picture (just scroll up the cast and crew list and you’ll be astounded by the caliber of folks involved in this at every level). It’s just there in the wrong proportions, like everyone involved on the development end was working from a different recipe for cinematic success. It’s frustrating and a little bit heartbreaking to look at a film in which so many people clearly worked so hard to do what they could with what they were given and to find that, for every solidly funny segment like “Homeschooled” or “Veronica,” there’s at least one other wholly unfunny segment on either side of it.
If you just have to see it for yourself, Movie 43 is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.