The Peter Farrelly-masterminded sketch-comedy boondoggle Movie 43 throws down the gauntlet with an early vignette where a woman played by Kate Winslet sits down to a blind-date dinner with a man (Hugh Jackman) who would be perfect, if not for the pair of huge, hairy, sweaty, disturbingly realistic testicles emerging from his neck like something out of a Frank Henenlotter film. Winslet can think of nothing but Jackman’s freakish physical abnormality, but he and the rest of the world remain completely oblivious to it, even after she repeatedly attempts to bring it to their attention. The film clearly intends this sequence to be water-cooler fodder à la Cameron Diaz’s infamous ejaculate-hair-gel gag in There’s Something About Mary; it’s intended as an outrageous provocation made all the more daring by the prestige and recognition of the actors involved. Movie 43 affords today’s top stars an opportunity to indulge their collective fart-lighting, booger-picking inner 12-year-old boy, but for all its calculated raunch, the film feels like the rancid id of star-studded Garry Marshall ensemble romantic comedies like New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. It’s just as reliant upon the cheap buzz of star-power and famous faces, only in this instance, instead of coupling cutely against a series of romantic backdrops, those famous folks are doing things like making guacamole with their fake naked breasts, or preparing to defecate on Anna Faris’ face. (Movie 43 has many faults, but no one can accuse it of being squeamish.)
Movie 43’s appropriately half-assed framing device finds a struggling filmmaker (Dennis Quaid, with the wardrobe and hair of a 25-year-old emo kid) pitching a series of movies to a studio executive played by Greg Kinnear, first with mounting desperation, then while threatening Kinnear with a gun. The film pitches play out in a series of brazenly tasteless sketches, the most dire of which involves Batman (Jason Sudeikis) and Robin (Justin Long) speed-dating while wearing costumes apparently borrowed from a Halloween shop.
The sketches aren’t united by a half-ignored framing device, so much as by an enduring fascination with bodily functions. Movie 43 is the most star-studded collection of jokes involving menstruation, flatulence, incest, bestiality, Snooki, and nutsacks ever assembled, but the stars don’t elevate the material—they just descend to its level. The film feels like an assemblage of cut sketches from the Jean Doumanian season of Saturday Night Live, but as bad as SNL can be, it at least holds out the sweet release of a commercial break between dreadful sketches. There’s no such respite from the gauntlet of smutty, profane awfulness here.
Movie 43 isn’t entirely devoid of inspiration. There’s a germ of a clever idea in a sketch where real-life twosome Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts play a hard-ass couple intent on having their home-schooled, teenaged son experience all the horrors and trauma of conventional high school, right down to Watts hitting on her son to give him an appropriately awkward, creepy first kiss. But this semi-smart, deeply committed sketch stands out as an oasis of mild cleverness in a vast desert of gross-out gags that should have died with the first wave of Farrelly brothers knock-offs. Movie 43 reportedly took four years to make because it was so difficult to line up the schedules of its ridiculously overqualified cast. Had the filmmakers taken a few more years, maybe they could have come up with more than a single workable joke.