MRR Review: "Movie 43"


MRR Review: "Movie 43"

-- Rating: R
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: January 25, 2013
Directed by: Bob Odenkirk, Elizabeth Banks
Genre: Comedy

It's a terrible cliché to say that Hollywood is littered with ambitious failures, but even the most trite and overused of clichés can be true. "Movie 43" butters its bread on that cliché by following an inept ex-producer through town and through a long series of interconnected shorts as he pitches increasingly mad and desperate ideas for a film. The first of these involves Kate Winslet meeting Hugh Jackman on a blind date, only to find that Jackman's character has a terrible secret under his scarf. Other sketches follow with varying results as the protagonist makes the pilgrimage from one studio to another, pitching away.

This idea of making a movie as a celebrity-choked series of skits isn't new, and independent films like "Twenty Bucks" were doing the same sort of thing twenty years ago. The well is far from dry, however, as this is easily one of the most fruitful frameworks that movies have to offer serious screenwriting talent today. However, the format is depressingly easy to abuse, as "The Aristocrats" proves, and it's difficult to not fall into the trap of thinking that just because a more traditional narrative structure has been jettisoned, so have the demands of good storytelling. "Movie 43" generally avoids these hazards, much to the relief of the audience.

It might save time just to list the current celebrities who don't put in an appearance in "Movie 43." What is the term for groups of three or more celebrities? A flock? A passel? The casting director for "Movie 43" hired an orgy of celebrities, some of them seemingly at random. Look, there's Dennis Quaid, and he's with Greg Kinnear! Is that Common, also known as the rapper who has been to the White House? Yeah, and Will Sasso, that guy from the sketch comedy show from twenty years ago that wasn't "SNL" or "Kids in the Hall." It just goes on like this, with Hugh Jackman's clever agent setting him up for publicity ahead of the Academy Awards he's up for and Kate Winslet looking vaguely surprised to be pulling this off at all.

Every ten or twelve years since "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," Hollywood has felt the need to make a star-studded carousel like this one, and what used to be fun cameos that subtly acknowledged the fourth wall have increasingly been converted into marketing tricks to gain exposure. "Movie 43" manages the numerous appearances by stars as well as a modern film can be expected to, so they aren't too jarring.

If it seems that a riot was staged on the casting couch for this film, that's nothing next to what's been going on in the director's chair. "Movie 43" has no fewer than thirteen credited directors. Ordinarily, there isn't anything wrong with a guest director taking over for a segment. It's the kind of thing Quentin Tarantino did well back in the day, but stirring over a dozen directors into the film's celebrity melting pot must have caused some kind of pandemonium in the writers' room (oh yeah, there were also nine writers).

Amazingly, quite a lot of "Movie 43" seems to work as advertised, and the skits actually hang together quite well. The central theme of having a washed-up Hollywood has-been making the rounds pitching insane ideas has enough juice to squeeze that it rescues this movie time and again.

Quite a lot of the humor in this movie feels forced, as if the writers were worried the audience wouldn't get it. After all, how hard is it to activate the shock receptors in the audience members' brains when the film has Naomi Watts' character make out with her teenaged son? The silver lining here is that in many of these shorts, an actor is connected with just the right writer, and that puts the movie on much firmer ground.

"Movie 43" was a great premise that in places narrowly avoided being mugged by its own ambition. The pile of A-list celebrities seems to have run out pretty quickly, but the B-listers sometimes turn in surprising performances. The fundamentally loose and disjointed script is actually an asset here, given the story's narrative structure, though fewer cooks might well have flavored the broth more carefully. It would be wrong to make sweeping declarations-as some have-regarding the film's undeniable smuttiness, since any particular member of any particular audience will be floored by different jokes than his date might. Of all the surprises "Movie 43" attempts and manages to pull off, perhaps the biggest surprise is that it has survived to theatrical release in the reasonably good shape it has.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5