Movie 43 is the brainchild of Peter Farrelly, one half of the notorious Farrelly Brothers who were, if I must remind you, perhaps the central champions behind the gross-out comedy movement of the 1990s, exemplified by their films There's Something About Mary, Kingpin, and other films that wrung wretched laughs from various flying bodily fluids. Movie 43, an anthology comedy consisting of about a dozen short films, is clearly intended to continue that tradition. Throughout the various short films, someone is coated in viscous cat urine, someone has a penis tattooed on their face, another person has real-life balls on their face, numerous penises are mutilated (thankfully off-camera), someone's bowels explode several gallons of fecal matter all over a suburban street, and two leprechauns are shot through the head, execution style. There's menstruation, incest, pubic hair jokes, superhero sex jokes (yes, someone actually repeats a line – unwittingly – from Kevin Smith's Mallrats), plastic surgery jokes, and a few racial epithets thrown in for good measure. The one thing that's missing from the film is a nun falling down. The modus operandi of the filmmakers seems to be less about telling funny jokes, and more about trying to be as shocking as possible. Some of the shorts are funny. Some are shocking. It has (perhaps by design) a few golden moments, and a few duds. This is not the slapstick all-star bonanza that the deliberately vague previews have promised. This is a vomit showcase. Even though the only vomit comes from an animated cat.
Like all anthology films, the quality tends to dip and swerve throughout. Each short film was done by a separate director (Griffin Dunne, Brett Ratner, Bob Odenkirk, Steve Carr, Steve Brill, Farrelly, Elizabeth Banks all contribute) and there is no tonal connection, making for a series of distracting YouTube-like videos, all featuring recognizable actors, and all of wildly varying comedic power. One short involves Kate Winslet going on a blind date with Hugh Jackman, the world's most eligible bachelor millionaire... only he has a fully-developed scrotum hanging from his neck. This is the first short, and it exemplifies the star power we're working with, and the level of jejune bathroom humor that the film is clearly aspiring to. I suppose there is something “edgy” about smearing a wall with menstrual blood, or deliberately seducing your own son, but not exactly daring or adult. It's poo-poo doo-doo humor writ large, with nudity, cussing, sex jokes, and several Academy Award winners.
Also featured: Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts play parents who want their home-schooled teen to have the full high school experience, including the emotional scarring, rejection, bullying, and awkward sexual experiences therein; yes, both parents come onto their son. Anna Faris plays a springy pixie woman who dreams of being pooped on. In the funniest short, Kieran Culkin and Emma Stone merely have an intense – and intensely absurd – romantic conversation in a run-down grocery store. Richard Gere plays the Steve Jobs-like innovator of an MP3 player that looks and feels exactly like a nude woman (complete with a bladed vagina). In the most insufferable Funny-Or-Die-style sketch, numerous comedic actors (Justin Long, Kristen Bell, etc.) play low-rent versions of Batman, Robin, Superman, etc., in a speed dating-style scenario. John Hodgman plays The Penguin. Chloë Grace Moretz plays a 12-year-old girl who gets her period in front of some boys... with no joke, really. Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott play a pair of best buds who do violence to leprechauns (both played by Gerard Butler) in exchange for gold. In the most disturbing short, Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant play a first-date game of "Truth or Dare" which starts with simple tasks of groping strangers, and escalates into self-mutilation and bizarre plastic surgery. Terrence Howard plays a 1960s basketball coach who believes that his team's race is their most valuable asset. Elizabeth Banks must compete for her boyfriend's attention with a raunchy animated cat named Beezel.
The framing story is that all the shorts are being pitched to a long-suffering studio exec (Greg Kinnear) by a clearly-mad screenwriter (Dennis Quaid). The framing device would have one believe that Movie 43 is, as a whole, intended to be a satire of well-known movie conventions, replacing the known plot beats with visible neck testicles. But the film is far too free-wheeling for any sort of satiric thrust, assembled, as I suspect it to have been, out of funny scenes that the screenwriters (nine in all) couldn't really fit into a full-length feature, and weren't high concept enough to belong as a stand-alone short. This leaves us with classic anthology syndrome: Some good moments amongst many not-so-good ones. I want it known that I do appreciate the comedy anthology form; I'm a Kentucky Fried Movie fan from way back, and I'm even fond of 1987's bonkers (and spiritually similar) Amazon Women on the Moon. But Movie 43 lacks those films' knowing winks and blatant absurdism. I suppose I should at least be grateful that Movie 43 refreshingly lacks the shrill offensive dumbness of something like A Haunted House. Movie 43 isn't fearfully poking fun at race or gender; they are poking fun at humanity. In a weird way, the offend-as-many-as-possible-with-piss-and-genitals approach makes Movie 43 feel a mite quaint.
But then, if balls and poop and razor vaginas are enough for you, maybe Movie 43 will be your cup of (*ulp*) tea. I personally wish it had more bite. I chuckled enough, and was disturbed through the plastic surgery (seriously, they were pushing into Tales from the Crypt territory), and left the theater mildly bemused, but will likely forget about all the cat urine in a few months.
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and co-star of The Trailer Hitch. You can read his weekly articles B-Movies Extended, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.