The line between gross-out humor that’s inspired and the kind that’s witless is fine indeed, and “Movie 43” obliterates it with poop and movie stars.
What are the likes of Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Richard Gere, Emma Stone, and Uma Thurman doing in this cheerfully disgusting, regrettably hit-and-miss sketch-comedy omnibus? Only their agents know for sure. Maybe they owed a favor to Peter Farrelly, the film’s producer and co-director, one half of the Farrelly brothers (“There’s Something About Mary”), and a man whose life philosophy could be summed up as: The more bodily fluids, the better.
And between you and me, I got more entertainment out of watching Jackman play a man with testicles protruding from his neck than I did from all three hours of “Les Misérables.” That’s the opening skit, with Jackman and Winslet on a fancy Manhattan date and no one but her seeming to notice his, ah, protuberances. Like much here, it’s a vilely amusing sight gag that doesn’t really go anywhere.
Next up are Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber as home-schooling parents intent on replicating high school in all its cruelty for their teenage son (Jeremy Allen White); this one’s funny in theory but never in fact, perhaps because Watts is too much the professional to loosen up for farce.
And so it goes. Real-life spouses Anna Faris and Chris Pratt play a couple whose romance takes a turn for the fecal; the sketch culminates in an exploding-underpants sight gag that I dearly wish I could forget. Gere is cast as the blithe CEO of a company whose latest product — the iBabe, an MP3 player in the shape of a life-size naked woman — is causing an epidemic of castration, thanks to an unfortunately placed exhaust fan. Berry and Stephen Merchant play another dating couple whose game of Truth or Dare spirals into surreally stupid territory.
The movie’s framing plot, about an insane movie producer (Dennis Quaid) pitching these stories to a horrified studio executive (Greg Kinnear), isn’t much better. Less low points would have to include the fake PSA about toddlers who work in vending machines, a silly but enthusiastic love scene between a supermarket check-out clerk (Kieran Culkin) and his girlfriend (Stone), and a teenage girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) experiencing her first menstruation in a worst-case scenario involving her middle school boyfriend (Jimmy Bennett), his older brother (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and their clueless dad (Patrick Warburton). That last is the lone sketch written and directed by women (Elizabeth Wright Shapiro and actress Elizabeth Banks, respectively), and it makes a difference.
A pretty funny bit about Robin the Boy Wonder (Justin Long) speed-dating is the closest the movie comes to “Saturday Night Live,” in part because Jason Sudeikis is playing Batman. The touchstone here, though, isn’t modern skit comedy along the lines of “SNL” or funnyordie.com. Farrelly’s an old-school sort, and he has acknowledged that he’s reaching back to ’70s cult flicks like “Kentucky Fried Movie” and “The Groove Tube.” Those were hit-and-miss, too, and almost, if not quite, as disgusting. More to the point, they didn’t arrive in a culture already under 24-hour assault from attempts to shock us. If Farrelly really wanted to do that, he’d stage a Noel Coward play.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.