Movie 43 lacks in taste and substance

While sitting through — and actively trying not to walk out of Movie 43 — you might begin to simply ask yourself: How? As in, how such a large, respected and successful cast was convinced to participate?

Painful comedy · Halle Berry looks on as co-star Stephen Merchant gets a new tattoo. Scenes as eccentric as this one are all too common throughout Movie 43, which thrives on crass, tasteless humor. - Courtesy of Relativity Media

Painful comedy · Halle Berry looks on as co-star Stephen Merchant gets a new tattoo. Scenes as eccentric as this one are all too common throughout Movie 43, which thrives on crass, tasteless humor. – Courtesy of Relativity Media

In Movie 43, Kate Winslet, Emma Stone, Gerard Butler, Halle Berry and dozens of other established Hollywood stars are cast in a series of sketches only connected by their manic obscenity. Unfortunately, most of the gags are so focused on being offensive that they forget to be funny, and the few ones with a clever premise are stretched out so long that their charm is completely lost.

The movie segues from Hugh Jackman with testicles hanging from his neck giving a baby a kiss to Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt taking a laxative and subsequently getting hit by a car. By the time a cartoon cat urinates endlessly on Elizabeth Banks to close out the movie, you will probably be sore from the extensive cringing and eye shielding the movie demands from its viewers. The only laughs come out of sheer nervousness, achieving the comedy heights of an overtly racist, slightly drunk relative at a family gathering. “Nothing is off limits” is a phrase tossed around lightly when describing comedy, but after the release of this movie, it should probably be retired for fear of being misleading. The movie “jokes” at the expense of incest, every single kind of substance the human body can excrete and the ever-hilarious Holocaust. It plays like a demented episode of Saturday Night Live in which a cracked-out homeless man has replaced Lorne Michaels. Perhaps its only saving grace is that the movie, realizing its own insanity, actually cast Dennis Quaid in the role of a cracked-out homeless man inventing the stories.

The “fill-in-the-blank Movie” series, including the likes of Date Movie, Disaster Movie and Epic Movie, took as many references as they could from a certain genre of movies and pop culture, mixed in poop jokes and unleashed them on unsuspecting audiences. Movie 43 does essentially the same thing, substituting a parade of Hollywood stars for the random references.

This, again, begs the question: How were these actors, responsible for such acclaimed movies as Pulp Fiction, Titanic and The Help, convinced to do this? It is well known that many actors known for doing more dramatic fare love doing comedy. John Hamm stars as the serious and pensive Don Draper in Mad Men yet plays fantastic roles in 30 Rock and Bridesmaids. And who can forget Tom Cruise’s surprising and hilarious role as an overweight studio chief in Tropic Thunder?  But the comic roles these actors took on in Movie 43 are not cut from the same cloth. The acting is actually fine, as the actors seem to take a certain macabre joy from acting out such ridiculous scenarios while marring their filmographies for posterity. This alone separates the movie from the  afformentioned “fill-in-the-bank” dreck (those films generally lack any acting talent), but at the same time might make it even harder to watch. Few things are more depressing than wasted talent, and never has more talent been wasted in a single 90-minute period.

The best comedy finds the limits of what is acceptable and pushes them further. Monty Python and South Park didn’t become transformative hits by being conservative. A show would not have gotten away with calling a major music star a gay fish 30 years ago, but when South Park did, it was hilarious. Pushing the limits is one of the hallmarks of great comedy, as it makes us question the the limitations while simultaneously allowing us to laugh about them.

Movie 43 doesn’t even notice the limits as it runs past them naked, laughing maniacally and yelling obscenities at the top of its voice. Blaming its 17 writers and 12 directors seems very easy, as they are the creators of this obscene Frankenstein’s monster of a story. But it is the actors who, by agreeing en masse to participate in this thing, gave it the legitimacy  needed to be widely released and publicized. Without them, it would have just been lost in the shuffle of terrible, straight-to-DVD gross-out comedies. Whatever misplaced set of ideas about the nature of comedy that convinced them all to take part must have been a sight to behold.