Jim Vorel and Kenneth Lowe are connoisseurs of terrible movies. In this occasional series, they watch and then discuss the fallout of a particularly painful film. Be wary of spoilers.
Ken Lowe: Jim, I know that you, too, have been waiting with bated breath here for this, one of the most momentous anniversaries in film history: The 10-year anniversary of Movie 43, a film brought to you by the same producer as the super well-received Green Book, and which besmirched the name of basically every famous actor you know of in the last decade. Paste’s Jacob Oller bears the responsibility for suggesting we revisit it this month. I hope you don’t begrudge me asking you to come along. For although it’s been a bit since we have done a Bad Movie Diaries, no film warrants it like this one does, I think you’ll agree.
Jim Vorel: It is true that Movie 43 defies characterization, as surely as it defies explanation. Not even the title of the film makes a lick of sense, Ken. The viewer is already confused before the first image has hit the screen, and that confusion never lets up through its interminable runtime. And it does inestimable damage to your respect for almost every performer in it.
Ken: Interminable is right. So much so that the film doesn’t even end when it ENDS, Jim.
Jim: I certainly was not expecting a bonus sketch at the end of the credits. I was half wondering if I might end up describing it on my own, because you would have turned the film off without realizing it existed.
Ken: Would that I did not share the dark knowledge of Beezel with you, Jim.
I suppose I should give our readers the requisite background on this monstrosity:
Movie 43, as I mentioned, comes to us from the mind of Charles Wessler, a Hollywood producer who has been attached to numerous projects you’ve heard of at various points in his career: He was a production assistant to George Lucas during some of the original Star Wars trilogy, and as I mentioned, he was one of the folks behind Green Book, 2018’s Best Picture winner at the Oscars and the subject of a lot of think pieces about why it is not a very sensitive portrayal of the racial subject matter it tackled. Movie 43 was one of his personal passion projects, Jim: He is reported to have come up with the idea during the early 2000s and spent more than a decade trying to get it made. At various points, the South Park creators were attached, along with other prominent writers, many of whom backed out of the project. Several prominent stars also wanted out of it but remain in there, including, notably, Richard Gere. It is not difficult to see why they might have wanted to skip out on this project. It is far, far more difficult to see how on earth he managed to trick them into attaching themselves in the first place. Jim, rattle off your top three stars you were MOST astounded to find in this. I’ll bet you don’t even need to Google it again.
Jim: First of all, I think to really appreciate the spirit of Charles Wessler’s career, one must note some of the illustrious titles that he’s been attached to in addition to the likes of Green Book. There’s It’s Pat, for example! Or Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, that was a good one. Or Shallow Hal. Just good, solid entertainment that always ages well.
Ken: True, he’s got a rap sheet.
Jim: But to answer your question: I was already generally aware of SOME of the famous people who would be appearing in Movie 43, but I think the most outright shocked and embarrassed I was for someone walking onto screen was Uma Thurman in the superhero sketch. Strong secondhand embarrassment on that one. She doesn’t even do anything particularly bad or offensive in it. It was just a moment of “Oh honey, you didn’t deserve this.”
Ken: Who would’ve thought My Super Ex-Girlfriend is the LESS EMBARRASSING of her superpowered girlfriend roles? I trust you can describe the overall premise of this endeavor to our readers, Jim. My mind is breaking like an H.P. Lovecraft protagonist’s.
Jim: Well the framing device of Movie 43, which I can only imagine Charles Wessler thought was very clever, is that of a frazzled, delusional screenwriter taking a Hollywood executive hostage and forcing him to listen to his pitch. That pitch then unspools as a series of totally unrelated, raunchy and scatological sketches. It’s an exceedingly cynical approach that allows the film to fall back on criticizing its own content as the work of a hack, which absolves the sketches of any obligation to be good. The movie is always washing its hands of itself, under the implication of “we’re not trying that hard, so it’s okay that this sucks.”
Ken: We should mention, by the way, that the deranged screenwriter is Dennis Quaid, pitching his script to a nonplussed Greg Kinnear. Quaid has gotten onto the lot by, he tells us, blowing the security guard. This barely functions as a framing device unless the movie is about speed dating: There are three shorts in here about awkward dates!
Jim: Including the lead-off, which really sets the tone for the whole thing I think it’s fair to say. That short stars Kate Winslet as a woman set up on a date with the most eligible bachelor in New York, a brilliant philanthropist playboy portrayed by an incredibly handsome Hugh Jackman. It certainly seems like love is in the air, until Hugh removes his scarf to reveal … a pair of testicles dangling from his neck. And then the next 10 minutes or so is just Kate Winslet staring in horror at his neck balls.
Ken: Nobody else sees them! That’s the gag!
Jim: Truly, it pushes the limits into anti-comedy territory, in terms of how long the sketch drills in on that one half a joke.
Ken: If it had just been one nut on his chin, it would’ve been half a joke, Jim. With two, it qualifies as a full joke. That’s just how fractions work.
So shameful that they actually CGI’d the neck balls off Hugh Jackman in the trailer above.
Jim: My favorite thing about this, attempting to read more about Movie 43 and understand it more deeply, is that this sketch was the first thing shot on this project, after Wessler miraculously convinced Jackman to sign on. For one: How could this pitch possibly have appealed to the likes of Hugh Jackman, or Kate Winslet? But even if we acknowledge that Wessler was somehow able to convince the pair that the concept would be funny when it was shot, the truly mind-blowing thing is that it was reportedly this piece of footage that Wessler then took around for the next few years in order to convince other stars to sign onto the project. I ask you, Ken: How could scores of Hollywood A-listers have watched an assembly cut of this neck testicle footage, and thought “this is something I want to be a part of”?
Ken: Numerous jobs in my life have involved vetting projects or people for other, more important people who have more money than time or good sense, Jim. And I truly believe some of them, into hour 70 of their work week chasing after some of these actors with their laundry or un-autographed headshots, probably just saw “Kate Winslet” and “Hugh Jackman” somewhere in the email and said “Sure!” This is undoubtedly how Halle Berry found it on her schedule. As for some other participants, like Seann William Scott and Chris Pratt and J.B. Smoove, I assume they knew of Wessler from his middling-to-poor Hollywood comedies and figured it was an easy payday for not a lot of work.
Jim: That’s what I said when I saw Seth McFarlane on screen: “Oh okay, here’s an appropriate person to be in this shitty comedy.” It’s the prestigious folks that make it stand out, though.
Ken: Likewise Christopher Mintz-Plasse and so forth. There ARE actors for whom you understand. But then, BAM, Uma Thurman! Or Chloe Grace Moretz, who is a BABY in this.
Jim: The thing that made Movie 43 infamous, though, isn’t just the insanely star-studded cast, but the genuine and universal crappiness of pretty much every single sketch. I cannot bear the thought of going through every single one of them with you, so instead I’ll ask this: Which did you personally find most egregious for whatever reason?
Ken: That is like asking me if I would prefer getting infected with Ebola or Anthrax. In truth, I don’t even think any of them stood out for being more transgressive, however you want to put it. I will say that the one I found to be the most contemptuously lazy was, I believe it was the second dating sketch, the one starring Halle You Have Got To Be Kidding Me Berry and Stephen Merchant. The premise is that they’re on a blind date and decide to start playing Truth or Dare rather than make small talk. They keep choosing outrageous dares to try to one-up each other. It ends with both having undergone gruesome plastic surgeries that have turned Stephen Merchant into a horrid Asian caricature and given Halle Berry a mangled face and ZZZ-sized breasts. He asks if he can come inside when he drops her off at her apartment, she tells him she doesn’t prefer Asians. This is a fakeout, and she bounces her big tiddies around and drags him off to bed, The End.
Jim: A perfect encapsulation of the witty repartee present in any Movie 43 sketch. And, you know, the racism.
Ken: Asian racism, Jim, is going to be what the lazy writers of the 25th Century use to denote how we’re racist here in the 21st. It isn’t even outrageous to me. It is the noise racist people make while they are loading their next program.
Jim: The thing about a lot of Movie 43 sketches, such as that truth and dare one, is that they’re structurally not that far off from how a sketch might work in a more functional sketch comedy show, but then they inevitably just augur themselves into the most racist or poop-related direction instead of going anywhere interesting or unexpected.
Ken: Yes. The premises themselves aren’t even, of themselves, that bad. It’s just that they completely squander them. They all go on SO long.
Jim: Case in point: “The Proposition,” which is the sketch about Anna Faris’ character asking Chris Pratt to poop on her. And then he prepares to do that, and that’s the whole sketch. Meanwhile, at one point during the opener on Jackman’s neck balls, I jotted down “Is this the longest period of time that a film has ever dedicated to a single joke?”
Ken: Part of that poop sketch is also Pratt getting hit by a car and his backed-up fecal matter exploding all over the windshield of it. Which is what you knew was going to happen. There’s just nothing that you don’t see coming from a mile away.
Jim: The sketches of Movie 43 all feel like rejects that a particularly zealous and immature writer tried and failed to get onto Mad TV, or the last 30 minutes of an SNL episode when most of the audience has already gone to bed.
Ken: Most sketch comedy features some kind of reversal, I think you’ll agree, Jim. That’s what’s missing from all of these sketches. Kate Winslet should have been revealed to have, I don’t know, fingers on her boobs or something.
Jim: You know, that’s really it. Every one of them just establishes an extraordinarily lazy joke right away and then never deviates from it. And there are a few sketches where I can at least imagine how the same premise might have been done in a really funny way. Like I could see the home-school sketch, with Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber, working in the context of a Key & Peele episode or something.
Ken: This sketch, we should clarify, involves Watts and Schreiber raising their son at home, bullying him in exactly the ways he would experience at school, except it’s his parents doing it. Including weird sexual stuff. They are describing this pedagogical technique to two horrified new neighbors. At the end, the kid comes into the living room and SEEMS normal and you think maybe it’s going somewhere interesting, and then no, he’s just a weirdo with a scarecrow doll for a girlfriend and the sketch ends. All these sketches peter out.
Jim: Fun fact: The high school kid in that sketch is Jeremy Allen White, who is the star of one of 2022’s most acclaimed TV shows, Hulu’s The Bear. He just won a Golden Globe for it the other day. So Movie 43 has the odd distinction of not only starring people who were big names when it was made, but a few folks who would be big a decade later. If only someone on the red carpet had asked him about Movie 43!
Ken: I am glad you brought that up, because Movie 43’s legacy now is that it RETROACTIVELY besmirches the good names of stars, writers and directors who have since hit it big. Chloe Grace Moretz was not nearly as big a star in 2013 as she now is. JAMES GUNN of all people wrote and directed one of these.
Jim: The thing about watching Movie 43 now in 2023 is that the film itself is profoundly uninteresting—but what would be extremely interesting, on the other hand, is if you could somehow get earnest discussions out of all the people who were involved to find out what they were thinking at the time. How many of them knew that it was going to be an infamous disaster? How many cared? Richard Gere apparently tried to get himself removed from the thing! Was he alone?
Ken: I have read elsewhere that at one point, George Clooney was approached and never got involved. What was the story there?
Jim: I can only imagine how many other people would have been “approached,” and presumably had the sense to run away as fast as they could. Of the performers who bit the bullet and starred in this thing, who do you think should legitimately be the most embarrassed about having Movie 43 on their resume? Winslet and Jackman? Halle Berry? Emma Stone? Richard Gere? Elizabeth Banks?
Ken: I didn’t even remember the Kieran Culkin and Emma Stone being gross public lovers over the PA system at a run-down grocery store sketch until you name-checked her. Those two should be the LEAST embarrassed. That one was almost good. I think Gere should be the most embarrassed as he is the oldest/most venerated actor in this. Nobody comes out of this smelling like roses, but Gere is the one who has the most experience that should’ve forewarned him. Conversely, Gerard Butler as a foul-mouthed Leprechaun being reduced in size and chipmunked in voice via CG, should actually add this movie to his highlight reel.
Jim: In terms of who acquitted themselves okay, I thought Greg Kinnear at least kinda-sorta manages to ground the framing story in his own smarmy way. And Terrence Howard does exactly what is needed of him as the coach of the closing basketball sketch, which plays like something rejected from Chappelle’s Show for being too blandly one-note.
Ken: We’re in agreement on both of those: Kinnear actually seems like he knows what movie he’s in.
Jim: And then the film abruptly ends as the unremarkable basketball sketch closes, and you’re like “Wait, what? It’s over I guess?”
Ken: But Jim, it isn’t over.
Jim: It is not. I wish it was, but it is not.
Ken: You see, folks, at the end of the credits, during which you learn that directors you’ve absolutely heard of, like James Gunn and Brett Ratner, have been making these shorts, we are introduced to a sketch we haven’t seen yet, and the movie begins again. This is the story of Beezel. I want you to lay out the premise, Jim.
Jim: Elizabeth Banks and hunky boyfriend Josh Duhamel are just about ready to embark on the path to marital bliss. The only problem? Duhamel’s animated cat Beezel, looking like something that escaped from the darkest corners of the Ren & Stimpy dimension into our live action world, is in love with him and jealous of the new woman in his life. And so, Beezel and Banks quickly come to blows in the wackiest and most piss-soaked take on Who Framed Roger Rabbit ever shot by the man who would film Guardians of the Galaxy for Disney two years later. Somehow, I don’t think Disney looked at this part of James Gunn’s clip reel?
Ken: We need to be clear there that Beezel’s jealousy over Duhamel is NOT platonic. We see this cat masturbating to photos of Duhamel. I typed those words, Jim.
Jim: I’ve really failed to make clear how pointlessly crass each and every sketch goes out of its way to be, and for that I apologize.
Ken: This sketch ends with Banks and Beezel in open combat. Beezel at one point shoots her with a shotgun and she ends the blood feud by beating him to death. In front of a birthday party of kids. Who immediately grab knives and stab her to death. James Gunn is the new architect of the DC cinematic universe, Jim. He MADE this short.
Jim: Really reminds you of the fact that he was mostly known for his work with Troma before he somehow ended up as the visionary force behind massive superhero tentpoles. Makes you wonder how many security guards are getting blown to let young writer-directors into the offices of Disney decision-makers, amiright?
Ken: I think we need to step back and look at that framing device. Many of the films we tackled for Bad Movie Diaries, Jim, revolve around the personal hubris of a creator who is completely in over his head. It’s kind of incredible that Wessler, who say what you will about him has actually worked in Hollywood, could get himself into a mess like this. And that framing device, with Quaid an unhinged guy with a pitch nobody in their right mind would greenlight, has got to be how he sees himself on some level, right?
Jim: Subconsciously, maybe. I don’t even know if he would somehow be aware of the audience making that connection, though. I feel like in Wessler’s own deluded mind, he would see himself as the last of a “lost generation” of bawdy filmmakers rebelling against constraint by “PC” culture. I think he viewed Movie 43 as some quixotic quest to bring back the good old-fashioned bathroom humor that filled all the Hollywood board rooms of his youth, but was gradually shunted out over time with the rest of his generation. In short, I’m not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Ken: Movies have become too WOKE, Jim!!
Jim: As we close, let me ask you this: Do you recall any time while watching Movie 43 that you actually had a chuckle or a laugh? I kept a running count in my notes to see if it would happen. I ended up with a total of … one hatch mark.
Ken: I will admit to one brief half of a guffaw: The sketch in which Johnny Knoxville reveals to Seann William Scott that he has captured a leprechaun. This goes bad: Gerard-Butler-As-Miniaturized-Leprechaun kicks their asses, and then his brother shows up and kicks their asses more. They eventually do triumph and get a pot of gold, whereupon Knoxville reveals that he got Scott another present: A fairy who, she tells us, does sexual favors in exchange for gold coins. I’m not proud of the laugh, but it WAS a joke, right? It had a set up and a punchline.
Jim: I believe that fulfills all the bare minimum qualifications to be considered a joke. Good on ya, Movie 43. My one laugh was during the superhero speed dating sketch, when Jason Sudeikis’ Batman describes the Riddler’s presumed plan for Robin being to “hang him above a vat of thumb tacks, or lizards, or some kind of fucking bullshit.” Which was a silly, lazy enough line to get a chuckle from me. So that makes one laugh in … 94 minutes. That’s a good pace, right?
Ken: Stretch it out to the usual runtime of most fucking movies these days and you might get two, maybe two and a half yuks for your bucks, Jim.
Jim: Jesus. Imagine an Avatar: The Way of Water-length director’s cut of Movie 43.
Ken: The mind cannot conceive it, Jim. I hope that we have another opportunity to talk through a bad movie together soon, and that whatever it may be, it’ll be a touch more inspired than Movie 43. Until next time, sir.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer, and you can follow him on Twitter. Kenneth Lowe is a contributing writer for Paste, and you can read more of his writing at his blog.