That said, Movie 43 does pack in a few laughs among its baker’s dozen sketches. In fact, this might be a life-changing experience for a 14-year-old with a taste for extreme gross-out humor (it’s a very hard R, so parents beware). Don’t get me wrong, most of the time it is trying way too hard. Much of the film is strenuously unfunny, like a compilation of the very worst Saturday Night Live bits strung together—only with better production values and unsuitable-for-network-TV language. There’s “The Proposition,” in which Julie (Anna Faris) wants nothing more than for her boyfriend Doug (Chris Pratt) to take a dump on her (he scarfs down a bunch of Mexican food in preparation for the big night). Take “The Catch,” featuring Beth (Kate Winslet) on a blind date with Davis (Hugh Jackman), a man whose testicles hang quite convincingly in a scrotum attached to his Adam’s apple.
Most of these, including the two mentioned above, are strictly one-joke concepts (and not great jokes, at that). They seem to function more as an outlet for a bunch of well-known actors to behave very badly. Occasionally, the writers hit on a funny idea. “Homeschooled” is good enough that I was kind of pissed off the concept was wasted on this film. Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts play parents who are homeschooling their son. In order to give the teen a “realistic” high school experience, they do all the bullying themselves. The segment contains the makings of a sharp satire, with Schreiber and Watts skin-crawlingly funny as they mistreat their own son. A better feature film than Movie 43 could’ve easily been fashioned by expanding on the “Homeschooled” short.
So what ties these disparate bits and pieces together? That depends on which version you watch. The Blu-ray contains both the theatrical and alternate cuts. The sketches are the same, but the framing story is entirely different. The one that played in cinemas opened with Dennis Quaid as a crazed street person pitching wild movie ideas to a perplexed studio executive played by Greg Kinnear. In between the sketches, we see Quaid’s pitchman becoming increasingly hostile and threatening toward Kinnear. That’s literally all missing from the alternate cut, which opens with a pair of teenage boys pranking their younger brother by tricking him to search for the most infamous of all viral videos, known as “Movie 43.”
It’s a total trip that Movie 43 was not only conceived with such radically different framing stories, but that each were in fact produced. Even more surprisingly, the alternate version is quite easily the better of the two. As the skeptical preteen searches more frantically for “Movie 43,” hacking top-secret government databases, it turns out that such a film does exist. It’s quite a shock to the older boys, seeing as they believed they had made the whole thing up. No, it’s not comic gold but it sure beats the shaggy dog story that played in theaters.
Despite the four-year production period and multitude of directors, Movie 43 hangs together just fine in a Blu-ray transfer that looks as good as a newly produced, digitally-shot film should. It was a fairly low-budget production and it often looks like it, but Fox’s presentation is without any noteworthy flaws. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is similarly standard-issue fare. Everything sounds great, even though it’s a simple, dialogue-heavy mix. The main supplemental feature is the aforementioned alternate cut. The only other piece here is an excised sketch starring Julianne Moore, “Find Our Daughter.”
I think probably the worst way to go about making a future cult classic is to set out trying to from the very beginning. Movie 43 got thumped by critics nearly universally and largely ignored (so far) by the public. It’s far, far, far from the worst film of all time. There are a few funny bits (Stephen Merchant and Halle Berry have a blast in “Truth or Dare,” to name another of the better moments) and the difference in approach between the two framing devices offers some added interest. If nothing else, Movie 43 is the kind of movie that is a lot of fun to tell your friends about, even if it’s not consistently fun to watch.