Review: “Movie 43”

Kieran Culkin and Emma Stone are among the dozens of actors to humiliate themselves in "Movie 43," here reviewed by film critic Danny Baldwin.This year’s Oscar-nominated short films will be released in select cities next month, but a vastly inferior program of shorts will sell at least 10 times the number of tickets. “Movie 43,” as it’s titled for no apparent reason, follows the Hollywood moneymaking formula recently re-popularized by “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve”: maximize star-power by recruiting as many big names as possible, but only for 10-minute vignettes so they’ll work at a fraction of their usual salaries. However, the lack of creativity on display here is even more unforgivable than that in the Garry Marshall films, because “Movie 43” is comprised of 11 shorts written and directed by separate individuals. Every 10 minutes, the film has a fresh chance to entertain, but it perpetually lets the audience down.

The producers open “Movie 43” with the best two shorts (and by best, I really mean “most tolerable”), likely realizing that the others would have prompted numerous walkouts had they been positioned during the first half-hour, when most theaters will give viewers their money back. In the first short, Peter Farrelly’s “The Catch,” Beth (Kate Winslet) scores a date with David (Hugh Jackman), a guy who seemingly has it all. But then he takes off his scarf, revealing a scrotum on his neck that functions as the elephant in the room. This is a mildly amusing bit of innocent fun, enhanced by the actors’ unwavering commitment to deliriously stupid material. Such commitment is shared by Naomi Watts and Liev Schrieber, stars of the not-so-innocent second short, in which homeschooling parents go way too far to make sure their son doesn’t miss out on the “high school experience.” This segment may not be entirely successful on a comedic level, but it pushes the envelope enough that it’ll be worth checking out when it eventually turns up on YouTube.

But then comes poop. Literally. The third short, Steve Carr’s “The Proposition,” involves a woman’s (Anna Faris’) request that her boyfriend (Chris Pratt) defecate on her to fulfill a sexual fantasy. He consumes a burrito on the toilet and then chugs a laxative to prepare for this lovely undertaking. The material is not funny—or even shocking, given the blasé delivery and presentation—it’s just gross. And the same description applies to nearly every short thereafter, be it Griffin Dunne’s “Veronica/CVS,” in which Emma Stone and Kieran Culkin play an ex-couple verbally sparring over who gave who HPV; James Duffy’s “Robin’s Big Speed Date,” in which Batman (Jason Sudeikis) examines Supergirl’s (Kristen Bell’s) irregular vagina under a restaurant table; Peter Farrelly’s “Truth or Dare,” in which Halle Berry douches with hot sauce; Elizabeth Banks’ “Middle School Date,” in which Chloë Grace Moretz’s first period leaks all over her boyfriend’s house; or James Gunn’s “Beezel,” in which an animated cat masturbates to the thought of its owner. You’ll notice: seemingly the only criterion for a short’s inclusion in “Movie 43” was that it involve a sex organ.

There’s a lame framing story, too. The shorts are presented as dramatizations of a movie pitch by a warped screenwriter (Dennis Quaid), who is holding a studio executive (Greg Kinnear) at gunpoint until the project is financed. By contextualizing the shorts as the work of a madman which a Hollywood honcho is reticent to green-light even with his life on the line, the producers of “Movie 43” are unsubtly suggesting that the film’s content couldn’t be more daring or taboo. But this is a rouse. In truth, there is not a more tired, less original movie than the one that requires successful actors to slum for a paycheck.