Movie 43: Even big stars like to be juvenile

January 27, 2013

Movie 43
Grade: 77
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, Kristen Bell, Halle Berry, Gerard Butler, Anna Faris, Richard Gere, Hugh Jackman, Greg Kinnear, Seth MacFarlane, Stephen Merchant, Dennis Quaid, Liev Schreiber, Emma Stone, Uma Thurman, Naomi Watts and Kate Winslet
Directors: Steven Brill, Peter Farrelly, Will Graham, Steve Carr, Griffin Dunne, James Duffy, Jonathan Van Tulleken, Elizabeth Banks, Patrik Forsberg, Brett Ratner, Rusty Cundieff and James Gunn; written by Will Carlough, Tobias Carlson, Jacob Fleisher, Forsberg, Graham, Gunn, Claes Kjellstrom, Jack Kukoda, Bill O’Malley, Matthew Portenoy, Greg Pritikin, Rocky Russo, Olle Sarri, Elizabeth Shapiro, Jeremy Sosenko, Van Tulleken and Jonas Wittenmark
Rating:R, for crude sexual content, nudity, strong language, some violence and drug use.
Running time: 175 minutes

By STEPHEN HOLDEN in the New York Times

The kindest thing to be said of Movie 43, a star-saturated collection of crude one-joke vignettes made with big-time directors, is that most of the participants seem to relish being naughty. What binds these skits in a format that leads from one to the next with no connective tissue is the occasional presence of Dennis Quaid as a crazy, down-on-his-luck filmmaker who has wangled his way into the office of a timid midlevel studio executive (Greg Kinnear) to sell the project.

A potpourri of off-color, politically incorrect and potentially offensive vignettes, Movie 43 begins with Peter Farrelly’s “Catch”, in which Hugh Jackman plays a blase, handsome Mr. Big, on a blind date with the beauteous Kate Winslet at an upscale restaurant. Romantic sparks seem about to fly until he removes his scarf to reveal a pair of shaved testicles hanging below his chin. She is aghast, the more so because neither the restaurant staff nor the other diners seem to notice. “Catch” knows just how far to push its novel sight gag before it wears thin.

The creators of “Catch” cite precedents like The Kentucky Fried Movie and Airplane! as prototypes. More recent inspirations include the hair gel scene from There’s Something About Mary and the diarrhea outbreak in Bridesmaids.

A problem in this attempt to exceed the gross-out factor of any previous Hollywood comedy is the density of the humor, which arrives in a relentless torrent. Once you’re attuned to the movie’s desperation to shock, you begin to have that jaded, ho-hum feeling.

In the most transgressive sketch, Will Graham’s “Home-schooled,” Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts portray devoted parents who, while home schooling their adolescent son, are determined to ensure that he not “miss out on any of those essential emotionally scarring experiences that he’d get at a regular school.” Leading those must-have experiences are a first kiss forced on the boy by his mother, and an unwanted sexual advance by his father. Bullying, rejection and humiliation follow.

Steve Carr’s “Proposition,” the movie’s inevitable poop segment (starring Anna Faris), carries scatological humor to the next level. I will only say that Faris’ character likes feces.

Griffin Dunne’s “Veronica/CVS,” a verbal sparring match between ex-lovers, gives Emma Stone a radiant comic turn but otherwise misfires.

Movie 43 is front-loaded, with the funniest chapters near the beginning. That ho-hum feeling sets in during James Duffy’s “Robin’s Big Speed Date,” a tiresome superhero spoof involving Batman, Robin, Supergirl and Superman impersonators playing mind games at a speed-dating party. In Farrelly’s “Truth or Dare,” Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant enact a blind date in which they goad each other to grotesque extremes of plastic surgery.

“Happy Birthday,” by Brett Ratner, involves a sadistic, foul-mouthed leprechaun. Steven Brill’s “iBabe” imagines the fusion of an iPod and a sex doll into a life-size device that mutilates men who try to have sex with it. In “Middle School Date,” Elizabeth Banks ridicules male ignorance and squeamishness about menstruation.

James Gunn’s “Beezel,” in which a jealous, sex-crazed animated cat tries to break up two young lovers, elaborates on the concept of Seth MacFarlane’s “Ted.” The biggest dud is Rusty Cundieff’s “Victory’s Glory,” a witless, unfunny satire of racial stereotyping in basketball.

If “Movie 43” is fitfully amusing, it brings Hollywood’s standards of comedy one step closer to the gutter.

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