When Movie 43 was released a year or so ago critics (yes, all of them) swiftly damned the film with a string of aggressive insults. Some called it the worst film ever made. Some called it the worst thing ever made. Some called it the worst thing ever, whether it has been made or not. Some were so affronted they claimed that co-director and co-producer Peter Farrelly was worse than Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot and Augusto Pinochet combined, and should face trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for his crimes. And those sentiments are lifted from the more positive reviews.
OK. I’m making most of that up, but the point is the reaction to Movie 43 was ludicrously over-the-top. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to go against the grain here and champion this poorly-written guff as a lost classic, and I’m certainly not about to suggest Farrelly is a misunderstood genius. However, while Movie 43 is pretty awful at times, the reaction to it was unfair. Anyone referring to it as ‘the worst movie ever made’ clearly hasn’t seen The Dictator, Southland Tales, The Spirit, Gigli, Battlefield Earth or Sex Lives Of The Potato Men, to name a few recent contenders for that unwanted honour.
In case you haven’t heard of it before, a few facts about the film. Pitched as a series of comedy sketches loosely strung together, a bit like a modern-day version of Kentucky Fried Movie, it is the brainchild of a Mr. Charles Wessler. He managed to get Farrelly on board to direct one-third of the movie, as well as South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and (understandably) David and Jerry Zucker to direct a third. However it was hard to convince studios to back the project, and everyone except Farrelly drifted away while the search for funds went on and on.
* Juvenile, yes, but amusing thanks to Winslet’s reactions and Jackman’s straight face. Think Cameron Diaz’s hair in There’s Something About Mary and you’ve got the gist.
Wessler had convinced Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman to appear in one sketch, a blind date in which Jackman’s character has a large pair of testicles dangling from his throat*, and after filming was completed the scene was used to convince other A-listers to appear. Somehow that actually worked. It was also used to secure backing, and by 2009 Farrelly and another co-producer, John Penotti, had convinced Relativity Media to stump up $6 million. That’s six million dollars, handed over because Hugh Jackman wore some grafted-on neck balls. You may think that is insane in this day and age, but if you’re disgusted now I expect you’ll be apoplectic when I mention the fact that Movie 43 has grossed more than Her and Dallas Buyers Club at the time of writing.
So how do you make a movie for $6 million that features well-known directors like Farrelly, Brett Ratner and Griffin Dunne, as well as a host of star cameos from the likes of (deep breath) Winslet, Jackman, Halle Berry, Kristen Bell, Naomi Watts, Gerard Butler, Richard Gere, Liev Schreiber, Uma Thurman, Stephen Merchant, Chloe Grace Moretz, Anna Faris, Chris Pratt, Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, Seth McFarlane, Common, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kieran Culkin, Greg Kinnear, Dennis Quaid, Emma Stone, Larry Sanders, Julianne Moore and Elizabeth Banks? And, more importantly, how exactly do you squander most of that assembled talent?
Naturally many of the stars agreed to appear as a favour for equity pay rates, meaning a couple of days’ work for $800 or so. For that they may have been promised a percentage of the film’s profits; Movie 43 has made around $29 million to date, which admittedly is not an Alec Guinness standard of return but it’s probably not too bad for anyone receiving it, especially when considering the small amount of work involved and the lack of promotional duties (if any).
Unfortunately the film took years to make; officially it began shooting in 2010 but Winslet and Jackman had completed their sketch two years earlier. During that time some friends of Wessler’s who had agreed to appear – such as Richard Gere – had cold feet and tried to get out of the project. Wessler’s response was to wait people out. Despite his protestations, for example, Gere eventually had a gap in his schedule but would only film in New York, so that’s where his sketch was filmed (which is utterly, utterly dismal, so it’s little wonder the actor wanted out). Colin Farrell somehow managed to extricate himself from the mess after initially agreeing to be in it, while others were less polite when originally approached: depending on the source you read George Clooney’s response was either ‘fuck off’ or ‘no fucking way’.
If you think that combining such a long shooting time with 12 directors and 20 writers would make for a fragmented, unfocused whole you are not wrong. In the original US release the film has an overall narrative arc running through it called ‘The Pitch’, in which Dennis Quaid plays a version of Charles Wessler. However the version released in the UK (and also the Netherlands, apparently) differs; instead of ‘The Pitch’ the thread running through Movie 43 concerns a group of young teenagers who are searching for a film on the internet that is so dangerous it will cause the end of the world. As I haven’t seen ‘The Pitch’ I can’t really comment on it, but if they bumped it for the motif I saw it must have stunk all the way to high heaven and back again. And back again and back again. There are other changes too, most notably the fact that sketches involving Julianne Moore, Bob Odenkirk and Anton Yelchin have been dropped from the UK version (much to the relief of those involved in them, no doubt).
* Really? Is this what we’ve evolved into? Stop the world, I want to get off.
The main problem with Movie 43 is that many of the sketches simply aren’t funny. They rely far too much on the shock factor of tasteless humour, and while that has worked for the likes of Farrelly in the past it feels a little dated here. There’s a terrible sketch involving Anna Faris, for example, that revolves around a lame coprophilia joke that my ten-year-old nephew would dismiss as immature and unfunny. Gere’s segment – a pisstake of Apple’s adverts and ethos involving an MP3 player in the shape of a naked woman called an iBabe – is so heavy handed in its fumbled spoofing it flatlines a good two minutes before Movie 43 trundles off elsewhere. There are plenty more just as terrible: Knoxville, Butler and Scott stink up the screen in a weak effort about a kidnapped leprechaun and a whole host of famous faces play out a dire realisation of a half-decent idea in ‘Superhero Speed Dating’. By the time one sketch and a spoof Tampax advert make laboured fun of menstruation* it’s difficult to find the willpower required to persevere.
Actually, as it happens, Movie 43 got so bad I had to stop watching twice. Never in my life have I watched a movie over three separate evenings before, but I could only stand it for segments of thirty minutes or so. Perhaps those critics have got a point, after all. And yet …
… each time I felt like I would be adding my voice to the growing mob of people calling for all existing copies of Movie 43 to be burned in a giant pyre (so that we would never have to speak of it again), something funny happened on screen. The reason why this isn’t the worst movie ever made – or even the worst comedy ever made – is because it does actually contain several amusing moments. They may be crass, stoopid and designed to appeal to people with immature tastes in humour, like me, but I will proudly accept that description and admit that it made me laugh out loud a few times. Aside from the Winslet and Jackman sketch I also enjoyed the surreal and uncomfortably-dark humour of another, starring Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts, in which they play parents home-schooling their son. (They want him to experience everything a child attending a normal school would, and so in addition to teaching him they take turns acting as friend, bully and – in one utterly uncomfortable Chris Morris-esque moment – girlfriend.) There’s also a good one starring Merchant and Berry, who play another couple on a date; their impromptu game of truth or dare rapidly spirals out of control, and much of it is amusingly silly, although the attempts to offend as many Asian people as possible simply made me thankful that we’ve (largely) moved on from this kind of crap.
* It’s entirely possible due to the fragmented shooting arrangements that some of them had no idea, of course.
Aside from too much of it being just plain unfunny, the other main problem of Movie 43 is that the targets feel somewhat dated. Even the jokes at Apple’s expense seem ten years past their sell-by date. Much of it has a late-80s, early-90s feel, so the attempt to make a Kentucky Fried Movie for the modern age has failed on two counts. It’s also sexist pap, with so many unknown actresses exploited for cheap boob shots or full-frontal nudity it’s frankly amazing that so many notable actors went along with it*. Still, that fact also hints at one of the few saving graces: the actors involved here are game for a laugh, and even Gere looks as though he’s up for it, despite his wriggling. Their enthusiasm can’t save the film from being a turkey, but despite everything none of the stars involved exit the wreckage with any permanent career damage. In short: there are a couple of passable moments but otherwise the sound you can hear is the gross out comedy barrel being scraped. The slapdash nature of the film is best revealed by the fact that the obligatory outtakes reel appears before the final sketch, with approximately 18 minutes of the movie still to run.
Directed by: Various
Written by: Various
Running Time: 98 minutes