Movie Review by L.L. Soares
I’ve always been a fan of anthology movies, and they’ve been making a comeback lately. Most of them have been showing up in the horror genre—in fact, the anthology horror flick V/H/S was one of my favorite movies of last year. So I was really interested in seeing MOVIE 43 as soon as I heard about it. There hasn’t been a good comedy anthology movie in a long time. The most famous was probably 1977’s THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE. There were also 1974’s THE GROOVE TUBE and 1987’s AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON. In a way, the fake trailers that accompanied the main movies in the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino collaboration, GRINDHOUSE (2007), were also a variation on this concept too, since most of them were pretty funny. The basic idea is that a bunch of different directors and casts get together to make a bunch of short films, usually with a wrap-around storyline to tie them all together.
No matter how much fun these kinds of movies are, one thing that almost always happens is that the short films in question turn out to be a mixed bag. Rarely are they all equally good (or bad). And MOVIE 43 is no different. Made over the course of three years (as directors and stars had time), MOVIE 43 is at least a fresh idea compared to most of the comedies that have been in theaters lately. So how do the short films measure up? Let’s take a look. (I’ll give each one its own “grade” and then an overall rating at the end.)
The movie begins with its wrap-around story, in this case called “The Pitch,” and starring Dennis Quaid as Charlie Wessler (the name of one of the movie’s producers, by the way), a deranged guy who forces his way into the office of a movie studio head named Griffin Schraeder (Greg Kinnear) in order to pitch his movie ideas. We then get the various pitches, which make up the other short films in the movie. Get it? This wraparound segment was directed by Peter Farrelly of the Farrelly Brothers (who gave us THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY (1998) and, more recently, THE THREE STOOGES, 2012)
“The Catch” is the first short. It features Kate Winslet as a businesswoman named Beth, who going on a blind date. Her date is Davis (Hugh Jackman), a famous, successful lawyer and philanthropist, and she’s amazed that he is still single. When they go on their date, all seems to go well, until they go to a restaurant and Davis reveals that he has a very strange physical condition she was not expecting. I will not reveal what it is, but, despite the A-list cast, I thought this was one of the weaker entries. While it is funny when Davis’s deformity is revealed, and Winslet is great at playing it completely uncomfortable, it’s soon obvious that this is going to be a one-joke sketch and after a few minutes, I was already eager to see the next one. This one has good acting, great production values and prosthetics, but doesn’t have much of a pay-off. This segment was also directed by Peter Farrelly and is at least better than “The Pitch.” (I give this one a C, since there’s no real payoff.)
“Homeschooled” is one of the better entries. This one features Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber as parents who are homeschooling their high school-age son, Kevin (Jeremy Allen White, who is also really good on the Showtime series, SHAMELESS). Things get out of hand when it’s revealed that they not only teach Kevin at home, but also want to give him the “whole high school experience,” including bullying and..er..dating. (I give this one a B)
“The Proposition” stars Anna Faris and Chris Pratt as couple who are celebrating their first year of being together. To commemorate the special occasion, Vanessa (Faris) wants Jason (Pratt) to do something extra special in the bedroom. What she wants might surprise you, and chances are good it may repulse you as well. Kind of funny, depending on your sense of humor. (I give this one a B-)
“Veronica” might be the weakest of the bunch. Neil (Kieran Culkin), a cashier at a grocery store, is having an increasingly explicit conversation with his girlfriend, Veronica (Emma Stone), but he left the microphone on that he uses to announce specials over the intercom in the grocery store – so all of the customers get to hear the most intimate details. The customers look like a bunch of homeless people, and this is another one that pretty much is one-joke that goes on too long, except, unlike “The Catch,” this one isn’t funny at all. I thought it was a waste of Emma Stone, who is usually pretty good. Director: Griffin Dunne. (I give this one an F, since it’s pretty pointless).
“iBabe” is a parody of iPod commercials, where people listen to an MP3 player that just happens to look like an attractive, naked woman. When it turns out that there has been a rash of accidents where adolescent boys have been hurting themselves trying to get intimate with the iBabe, the company that makes it (headed by Richard Gere) has a meeting to try to determine what the problem is. This one was okay – but nothing great – although nudity is always a plus in my book. (I give this one a C)
“Superhero Speed Dating” features a lonely Robin (Justin Long) trying to get a date in a Gotham City bar on “speed dating” night. Unfortunately, a mean-spirited Batman (Jason Sudekis) shows up to torment him and ruin his chances at finding a girlfriend. Featuring Leslie Bibb as Wonder Woman, Uma Thurman as Lois Lane, and Kristen Bell as Supergirl, with a very funny appearance by Bobby Cannavale as a thuggish Superman. For some reason I always find superheroes indulging in bad behavior funny, so I liked this one. The performances are also spot on, especially Sudekis, who is pretty sadistic as a real jerk of a Batman. (I give this one a B)
“Middle School Date,” features Chloe Grace Moretz (Hit Girl from KICK-ASS, 2010) as a girl who is spending time at her boyfriend’s house when she has her first period. Unfortunately, everyone in the house is completely clueless, and her young boyfriend thinks she is bleeding to death. Not as funny as it could have been, but it foreshadows Moretz’s upcoming role in the remake of Stephen King’s CARRIE. Directed by Elizabeth Banks. (I give this one a C-)
“Happy Birthday,” is probably my favorite of the shorts. Pete (Johnny Knoxville) gets his buddy Brian (Seann William Scott) a special birthday gift – he’s kidnapped a leprechaun (Gerard Butler shrunk down by CGI) and demands the sprite give them his pot of gold, with hilarious results. The last line of this particular short is killer. Directed by Brett Ratner. (I give this one an A)
“Truth or Dare” is another good one. This one features Stephen Merchant (a familiar face from the British version of THE OFFICE and cable series like HBO’s EXTRAS with Ricky Gervais) on a first date with Halle Berry. To break the ice, they indulge in a game of Truth or Date that starts out innocently enough and gets more and more deranged as it goes on, and they dare each other to do more and more outrageous acts. Could have been a lot crazier than it is, though. (I give this one an B+)
“Victory’s Glory,” is set in the early 1960s and features Terrence Howard as the coach of a black basketball team giving his kids a pep talk before a big game against an all-white team. This is one of the sketches that was hurt the most by the trailer for the movie, which gives the joke away, but in the movie itself, with more R-rated dialogue, it’s actually somewhat funny, even if it is another one-joke bit. Directed by Rusty Cundieff. (I give this one a B-)
When the end credits begin, you may not want to get up and rush out the door too fast, because there’s one more short to come, “Beezel” features an “adorable” cartoon cat that is actually pretty vicious (and perverted) when his master (Josh Duhamel) isn’t looking. The object of the cat’s ire is Duhamel’s new girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks), who threatens the very close (too close?) master/pet relationship. We’ve seen this plot before (most recently in the far superior TED), and it’s actually one of the weaker entries in the movie. I just didn’t find it that funny. Directed by James Gunn, a director I normally like a lot. (I give this one a D.)
Meanwhile, the wraparound story (“The Pitch”) escalates, popping up between the shorts, as Quaid’s character grows more and more demented, eventually pulling out a gun and demanding the studio buy his movie treatments. For the most part, the wraparound story works to tie things together, but isn’t funny, a fact that the cast seems to realize themselves, as everyone kind of gives up toward the end and the actors break character. (I give this one an F)
There are also a couple of fake commercials that are actually pretty good. One is called “Machine Children” and the other, which is better, is a very clever short short commercial for Tampax, of all things.
I’ve listed the directors who I know worked on specific shorts, but it is very difficult to track down a list of who directed what (without going to see the movie a second time). Maybe this is on purpose, but other directors who worked on the movie include: Steven Brill, Steve Carr, James Duffy, Patrik Forsberg, Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan van Tulleken.
The big draw of this one is the cast—which is made up of some very big names who actually worked for scale (there is no way the budget could have covered them all otherwise) —doing outrageous things. Unfortunately, not all of the material is good enough to appear in (most isn’t), and over all, this movie seems to think it is much more shocking than it really is. In fact, in several cases, I don’t think it went far enough to be truly daring, although MOVIE 43 does earn its R rating.
From what I can tell, most critics have given this movie dismal reviews, but I didn’t think it was all bad. MOVIE 43 is a very mixed bag, with some shorts delivering laughs, and others not. If you like anthology films as much as I do, you might want to check it out, but go to a matinee showing (don’t pay full price). I give it two knives, and that’s probably being generous.
© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares
LL Soares gives MOVIE 43~two knives.