Seeing Halle Berry, Kate Winslet, Richard Gere, Hugh Jackman, Emma Stone, and, like, twenty others get down and dirty looks like a raucous party. But when a mammoth cast of A-listers signs up for “Movie 43,” a mystery movie promoted with the tagline, “Once you see it, you can’t unsee it,” it can either live up to its curiosity or turn out to be an infamous disaster. In the tradition of envelope-pushing, eager-to-shock-and-offend ensemble comedies like 1977’s “The Kentucky Fried Movie,” this strange beast is an assemblage of unrelated skits concocted by Peter Farrelly and strung together by a dozen filmmakers (Farrelly, Brett Ratner, Griffin Dunne, and Steve Carr, among others). Everyone involved seems to be in on the joke, but the joke is really on the audience for being duped into expecting a riotous good time when it’s more like a baffling experiment gone wrong.
The nuisance of a wraparound, used as a clothesline on which to hang eleven standalone shorts, involves a struggling screenwriter (Dennis Quaid) desperately pitching his movie ideas to a studio exec (Greg Kinnear). He prefaces his treatment as “a smart movie with heart,” but once he actually starts reading off his notes, they’re awfully obscene and will never be greenlit. First on the docket is “The Catch,” an obvious bit that has Kate Winslet going on a blind date to a posh restaurant with a handsome man (Hugh Jackman), who seems perfect until he removes his scarf to reveal a scrotum dangling from his chin. Nobody else flinches at “the elephant in the room,” except for the horrified, dry-heaving Winslet, and that’s the entire joke. Winslet and Jackman are both game, but the scene keeps going and going, until it fizzles out and goes nowhere. In “Homeschooled,” real-life couple Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber play a homeschooling married couple who torment their teenage son (Jeremy Allen White), insisting he should get a “real” high school experience that includes hazing and an awkward first kiss . . . with his parents. This one is weird, oh-so-very-wrong, and twistedly humorous in the lengths it’s willing to go, but ultimately makes one feel disturbed and unclean.
Without any transition, it’s time for #3: Chris Pratt is ready to propose to Anna Faris, but she just wants him to defecate on her. As sophomoric and ridiculous as the running gag is, the funny real-life wedded pair at least sells the filthy punchline. With love still in the air, “Veronica” has a straight-faced Kieran Culkin and Emma Stone trading barbs (“I want to give you a hickey on your vagina”) as an ex-couple reconciling over an intercom speaker in a grocery store for the shoppers to hear. It plays out like a video from “Funny or Die” on an off, off day. With “Super Hero Speed Dating,” the setup is theoretically amusingâ€”grown men in store-bought superhero costumes attending a Gotham Speed Dating sessionâ€”but the execution clangs. Robin (Justin Long) tries meeting girls, like Lois Lane (Uma Thurman) and Supergirl (Kristen Bell), but the lewd Batman (Jason Sudeikis) keeps ruining his chances when attempting to be Cyrano de Bergerac. All of the actors play it straight, and there’s a “Scooby-Doo” mask reveal, but it’s all so flat. Then there’s “iBabe,” with Richard Gere as a CEO who can’t understand why his new product, an iPod in the form of a naked, life-size woman with a misguidedly placed microfan, keeps mangling its users’ penises. Again, this could’ve worked.
Hah, you thought we were done? We’re just getting started. In the Elizabeth Banks-directed “Middleschool Date,” poor Chloe Grace Moretz realizes she’s having her first period while hanging out with the 7th grade boy (Jimmy Bennett) she likes. With Moretz leaving bloody trails, Bennett remains oblivious to the real source and blames his older brother (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) for staining the couch with fruit punch. Oh, gee, how will they plug it up? It comes as a relief when Moretz finally calls all the guys idiots (including Matt Walsh and Patrick Warburton as the kids’ respective fathers) and when this eye-rolling skit segues into a hilarious faux commercial for “Tampax.” In fact, the squeezed-in parody commercialsâ€”another against abuse of children in ATMs and photo copiers called “Machine Kids”â€”exhibit more wicked humor and surprise than anything in the star-studded skits. As for the next short, which Quaid promises will win an Oscar, “Happy Birthday” happens to be the lamest of all. It features Johnny Knoxville and Sean William Scott as two loser roommates who demand a pot of gold from a pissed-off leprechaun (Gerard Butler) strapped to a chair in their basement. Butler yelling testicle-laden threats, shooting/stabbing wounds, and dismemberment deflate the whole thing. The bit isn’t so much darkly funny as it is malicious and obnoxious.
“Truth or Dare” happens to be one of the more-bearable sketches, featuring Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant on a Match.com blind date at a Mexican restaurant, where the titular game keeps things interesting. From the misuse of a hot sauce-filled turkey baster to submitting themselves to bad cosmetic surgeries, their innocent game gets ratcheted up to such audaciously over-the-top extremes that it’s more fun than disgusting and appalling. In “Victory’s Glory,” a 1959-set spoof about an all-black basketball team, the coach (Terrence Howard) gives his boys a pep talk (“You’re black, they’re white!”), but does it want to be offensive or just unfunny? Of course, the one sketch with the most inspiration is the one many might miss if they leave after the first section of credits. It’s “Beezel,” a demented, TV-MA-rated twist on Garfield and Jon Arbuckle, where a naughty, destructive animated cat comes between its owner (Josh Duhamel) and his girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks). Bad kitty behavior and cartoonishly violent revenge ensue. Just for the sheer lunacy of James Gunn’s “bonus” contribution, you may giggle in spite of yourself.
For a project four years in the making, the results of “Movie 43″ are disheartening and embarrassing. The cast roster bursts with talent, but they’re all trapped and wasted in half-baked sketches that mainly prove they’re not sticks in the mud when it comes to getting a part in a hard-R, anything-goes romp.Â The good news is that all of them can cash their paychecks and realize they’ll never participate in anything worse.Â More than half of the one-joke vignettes terribly miss the mark, every idea barrelling right through the guardrails of good taste and desperately pushing the raunch to be wildly outrageous, dangerous, and inappropriate. Despite intermittent pockets of dirty-birdy amusement, the shorts either go too far or are written without any point or punchline.
More inane than any holiday extravanganza Garry Marshall could ever make, “Movie 43″ is extremely hit-and-miss and tentatively shaped without being well thought-out, often eliciting a “I-can’t-believe-what-I’m-watching” response. Unless you find random tastelessness (i.e. testicles, incest, coprophilia, menstruation, and bestiality) inherently funny, you’re barking up the wrong tree. We might not be able to unsee Oscar nominee Jackman’s chin balls being dipped in butter and slapping the head of a baby, but just avoid this colossal mistake altogether and you won’t have that problem.
97 min., rated R.
Grade: D +