For a collection of comedy sketches assembled together from a bunch of different writers, directors and actors, Movie 43 is pretty consistent in quality and tone. Sadly, in the worst possible way. It’s consistently and awkwardly unfunny, substituting rude words and crude references to male and female anatomy for jokes or witticism. You know you’re in trouble when the sketch that comes closest to fulfilling the promise of the movie – the lure of crass, immature and ridiculously low-brow comedy – is directed by Brett Ratner. Even then, it’s hardly anything to write home about. Ratner’s sequence is the best part of the film, but it’s hardly anything especially memorable.
Gross-out comedy isn’t anything new. It’s also a genre that – understandably – seems to draw a considerable amount of critical flack. After all, it takes more than something physically gross to make a scene funny, and there’s something very uncomfortable about basking in the humiliation of fiction characters as an end of itself. That said, I’ll freely concede that the genre has produced a number of worthy films. I was quite fond of the original American Pie, and I think that Team America: World Police was one of the best films of the last decade.
However, Movie 43 doesn’t do anything with its gross-out comedy. In fact, it feels disturbingly like the entire point at the movie is to laugh at the humiliation of various celebrities. After all, characters in sketch comedy need to be defined quickly and efficiently. Very few of the characters in Movie 43 get anything like that. With the exception of Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber as two terrible parents, superhero speed-dating and Richard Gere as Steve Jobs, none of the roles are really that well defined, even as archetypes.
There’s a sense that we are watching celebrities effectively playing versions of themselves. Characters aren’t defined in terms of who there are in the context of the script, it seems like the celebrities are all playing versions of themselves. So Hugh Jackman plays a handsome and charming man who everybody loves. Stephen Merchant plays a gangly socially-awkward British guy who has a dry sense of humour. Halle Berry plays a beautiful woman who knows that she is out of the league of Merchant’s character. Christopher Mintz-Plasse is a socially-awkward teenage boy. Chloe Moretz is a teenage girl on the cusp of adulthood. Naomi watts and Lieve Schrieber play a married couple, as do Chris Pratt and Anna Faris.
These aren’t characters so much as archetypes, and they are all archetypes associated with the actors playing them. If you were feeling generous, you could argue that it’s an effective way of doing sketch comedy. You don’t necessarily have time to define a character, so casting a recognisable face and playing off the audience’s perception of them is an efficient way of getting the point across in the least amount of time.
However, Movie 43‘s strange obsession with celebrity – apparently it was shot over years so that everybody could appear – makes it seem like the celebrities themselves were the point of this. As such, it becomes a grim exercise in public humiliation, as we’re asked to laugh at the fact that these big stars are being embarrassed in such a high-profile manner.It feels sort of like a very grim and even more malicious version of those damn X-Factor auditions, where we’re asked to laugh at the public humiliation of people who think they can sing. Movie 43 just sort of does that with celebrities.
Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the handsome and intelligent Hugh Jackman had a pair of balls on his chin? Wouldn’t it be outrageous if Halle Berry had botched plastic surgery to make her ugly? Wouldn’t it be great fun to see Stephen Merchant getting beaten up for squeezing a man’s bum? These are the questions that nobody has asked, but the movie is determined to answer. That answer, by the way, is “no” on all counts, but I guess we should applaud the movie’s contribution to human knowledge.
Those segments that don’t focus on humiliating celebrities, with the sole source of humour being “look at these famous people doing/saying/wearing this filthy nonsense!”, the movie also takes shots at familiar pop culture concepts. There’s a really terrible Steve Jobs section involving the “iBabe” which isn’t nearly funny enough to excuse the cheap sexism, but there’s also some a cheap Batman sketch, one based around an animated knock-off of Garfield and an uninspired parody of an inspirational speech.
None of these are especially fantastic, but they are better than the sketches that exist so we can laugh at famous people in awkward situations. It’s a sign of how weak the overall structure of Movie 43 is that “less bad” is actually legitimate praise. There are a couple of broader-stroke sketches, and these are the ones that actually manage to be a little bit funny. Not nearly as funny as they should be, but at least a little.
In particular, there’s a short sketch involving a plan to ransom a leprechaun that works because the script actually pauses to acknowledge that anatomical references aren’t funny of themselves. After the kidnapped leprechaun makes repeated threats to remove the testicles of his captors, one actually admits, “He’s got a weird fixation on balls.” The character could be speaking for the movie as a whole, and the leprechaun sketch is the one point in the film when it seems the creators realise that scatological jokes and threats concerning sexual organs aren’t enough to sustain a movie.
Of course, the sketch doesn’t come up with anything that much better than profanity and brutality, but at least it was a concept that is more than “celebrity does [x]“ or “here’s a scene from that movie you like.” Similarly, high concepts like Batman and Robin speed-dating and home schooling from hell aren’t bad places to start for a ten-minute comedy sketch, but they need to be executed with some hint of skill. Throughout the movie, there’s a sense that many of the actors know what they’ve signed up for and are trying to make it end as quickly and inoffensively as possible.
Movie 43 is further hindered by a weird framing device that isn’t funny. It doesn’t even seem to try to be that funny. Well, either that, or I am giving the movie far too much credit. We end up cutting back to this inane plot involving the eponymous film, but which isn’t entertaining enough to serve as a framework, and doesn’t feature any indispensable celebrities. Well, discounting the guy who looks like Fisher Stevens, but IMDb can’t identify. It would have been better to simply put up title-cards and at least embrace the comedy anthology format.
Movie 43 is a waste of time, and a waste of talent. It’s a proof that putting charismatic people on screen doing silly things is not enough to make a comedy. As if we didn’t know that already.
Filed under: Non-Review Reviews Tagged: | arts, brett ratner, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Emma Stone, Halle Berry, hugh jackman, kate winslet, Movie, Movie 43, Naomi Watts, richard gere, Stephen Merchant, United States