There's an insurmountable argument to be made that, most of a year later, there's no merit to kicking Movie 43 anymore. On the other hand, writing shell-shocked, visceral pans of fucking dreadful movies is fun, and it's Christmas Day. So here's my present to myself, and hopefully to you as well, my readers. God bless us, every one.

Now, I have not seen every wide-release American film of 2013, but I do not need to in order to know with all my heart that Movie 43, an ineptly-conceived anthology of comic sketches, is the worst of them. It's almost unimaginable to think that anything might possibly have found some deeper crevasse of badly-made anti-comedy to explore,* and certainly, to imagine a movie that made worse use of a bigger cast of major actors, many of them still in an emphatically bankable period of their careers. The complete absence of anything resembling creativity or comic panache is mind-blowing; I am convinced that I spent the entire movie with a look of taxidermied dismay akin to the ones being worn by the theater audience in The Producers before they concluded that Springtime for Hitler had to be some kind of postmodern joke. Not, mind you, because Movie 43 is so durn morally outrageous, which is what it desperately wants to be. But its bad taste is profoundly unimaginative and repetitive. It is like a petulant eleven-year-old who just learned the word "cunt" and says it at every opportunity, far more tedious than anything else. Although, with its hard "k" opening and and the humming puff of "nt", the word "cunt" is, itself, much funnier than just about anything said in Movie 43.

The biggest problem with Movie 43 is that every single one of its sketches (twelve and a commercial parody) operates the exact same way: think of a gag, repeat it until you hit your target running time. There's no escalation, no twist of expectation, no modulation. Just the joke, and the joke, and the joke, and then you cry a little bit and the next sketch starts. This is not clever comedy writing; it's barely even functional comedy writing. The only way to to distinguish between the relatively complex and sophisticated sketches and the crude ones is that the complex ones need a complete sentence to describe the concept. "Homeschooling parents sexually and socially humiliate their teenage son to give him a complete high school experience" is sophisticated, in this universe. "Neck scrotum" is unsophisticated.

It is, in an infinite universe, possible that someone could laugh all the way through Movie 43 without being heavily augmented by illicit chemicals, but I can't imagine why. It's not merely that the jokes are scatological and crude (they are), but that they are graceless - the execution amongst the sketches is rarely less than clumsy and obvious, and there's not a single one of the sketches that doesn't go on for a third or more of the running time it actually requires, irrespective of it being funny or not. Just to make the ghastly train-wreck complete, the film is saturated with important actors: two Oscar winners and an additional five Oscar nominees, alongside a handful of major young stars, some less-major 30somethings just a couple years past their sell-by date, a pair of old warhorses, several important comedy character actors, and the inevitable Anna Faris, the patron goddess of shitty smut-based comedies wasting the talents of actors who really should know better. Honestly, it's this aspect that pushes Movie 43 from "unfunny, leadenly 'shocking' comedy" to "instant contender for the Bad Movie Pantheon" - any hack can crap out a sketch of a blind date where the woman is grossed out that the man has testicles on his neck, but it takes a deal with Satan to have that woman played by Kate Winslet and that man played by Hugh Jackman. Presumably, this was easy money - nobody could have had to contribute more than two days of shooting, based on their ultimate screentime. But money could not possibly have been worth the fact that five years from now, puckish talk show hosts will still be reminding Jackman of the time he wore latex testicles under his chin.

Truth be told, the neck testicles sketch is one of the film's strongest: it's one of only a few that actually heightens its stakes as it progresses, and it was directed by Peter Farrelly, who knows at least something about gross-out humor (he also directed what is, far and away, the best part of the film, in which Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant taunt each other with an escalating series of dares). And weird as it is to say, Winslet's idling speed (and make no mistake, virtually everyone in the cast is idling, except, oddly, for Gerard Butler as twin killer leprechauns) is so vastly higher than almost everyone else involved that even her playing the grossed-out reaction shots in a one-note genital-joke sketch is more interesting and effective than virtually anything else on display.

The film plummets elsewhere: a bit in which Chloë Grace Moretz gets her first period (also a feature in one of 2013's other worst films), causing all the men around her to freak out like the plague just came to town is built on the nugget of an insightful social observation, but the actual humor of the thing relies to such an extent on people bellowing and pointing that any humor is smothered in its crib; a speed-dating sketch featuring Batman (Jason Sudeikis), Robin (Justin Long), Supergirl (Kristen Bell), and other DC figures immediately realises that it has nothing interesting to say about the private lives of iconic pop culture figures, and retrenches into a grueling iteration of jokes about Batman using filthy language to discuss female anatomy. Which would have been way funnier if Sudeikis had done a Christian Bale voice, instead of just being Jason Sudeikis. The most inscrutably anti-funny sketch, directed by Griffin Dunne, involves Kieran Culkin, Emma Stone (whose estimable comic skills are as helpless as Faris's), and violent sex talk over a grocery store intercom; there are neither discernible gags nor a payoff. The dumbest, by Stephen Brill, involves a new iPod shaped like a life-size naked woman that mangles teenage boys' penises when they try to have sex with it; I think the joke is that Apple is clueless and sexist, but it's so transparently an excuse to have images of a naked woman onscreen that it doesn't even remember to write setup-punchline jokes. The biggest missed opportunity is perpetrated by the sometimes-reliable James Gunn, who gives us a story of a gay animated cat who tries to murder the woman (Elizabeth Banks) trying to come between him and his owner (Josh Duhamel), which is at least structured like a narrative, with rising action and all, but never comes up with a joke more profound than "animated cat erections".

But worst of all is the most viciously dysfunctional sketch, the frame narrative. Directed by Farrelly (and this is the U.S. version only; parts of Europe got something that sounds at least modestly more coherent), it features Dennis Quaid plays a washed-up director pitching ideas (the sketches) to Greg Kinnear's studio executive, to which Kinnear consistently replies with some variant of "that doesn't make sense and isn't funny", which is a noble thing of the movie to admit, but then, if Movie 43 is itself aware that the bits in Movie 43 suck harder than any sane person with a modicum of taste would want to suffer through, then why does it have the effrontery to expect us to sit through it? It takes balls bigger than the ones on Jackman's neck to invites us to watch a 90 minute movie, and then announce in the first minute "by the way, all of this is going to be completely awful". But at least Movie 43 can keep that promise, even if the rest of it is a fire-scarred wasteland of stale and repetitive jokes and actors whose palpable confusion is even more pathetic than their anguish. Though, to be fair, plenty of them seem to be having fun. Somebody had to, I guess.

0/10