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Movie 43

Year: 2013
Production Co: Relativity Media
Director: Elizabeth Banks/Steven Brill/Steve Carr/Griffin Dunne/Peter Farrelly/James Gunn/Brett Ratner/Bob Odenkirk
Producer: Peter Farrelly/Charles Wessler
Writer: James Gunn/Bob Odenkirk/Rocky Russo/Jeremy Sosenko
Cast: Common, Greg Kinnear, Dennis Quid, Seth MacFarlane, Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Anna Faris, Chris Pratt, Kieran Culkin, Emma Stone, Richard Gere, Kate Bosworth, Justin Long, Jason Sudeikios, Uma Thurman, Leslie Bibb, Kristen Bell, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloë Grace Moretz, Patrick Warburton, Gerard Butler, Seann William Scott, Johnny Knoxville, Halle Berry, Stephen Merchant, Terrence Howard, Elizabeth Banks, Josh Duhamel

While watching this film, the thought that kept occuring to me more than any other wasn't, as so many other critics have said, how names this big were roped into something so awful. It was what kind of skit comedy classic producer Peter Farrelly convinced them the movie was going to be like. Amazon Women on the Moon? Kentucky Fried Movie? Who knows, but I'll bet the pitch to all the stars who lined up for this travesty mentioned those or others, intended to be a more adult version of them.

How else could you explain something so awful a bunch of regional theatre film students would think twice about signing on for it, let alone some of the most bankable stars and serious actors on the planet. All I can figure is that Farrelly, as the writer director of several good but hardly world-beating comedies like There's Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber, was owed favours from big names from early in their careers, and he collected.

But there's an even more intriguing possibility, and that's the idea that some of them genuinly found it an acting challenge. Just look at the first segment where Hugh Jackman plays a society playboy out on a blind date with Kate Winslet's urban thirtysomething. When he removes his scarf to reveal a par of testicles growing from his chin she's not only horrified, she's confused that nobody else around them seems to acknowledge something so out of place. The 'comedy' comes of her trying not to make an issue out of something profoundly wrong that nobody else even seems to notice.

But it's just the first – and probably not the worst – of the vignettes on offer. Elizabeth Banks appears as a woman whose boyfriend (Josh Duhamel) has an animated pet cat that will do anything to keep her from coming between them. Richard Gere is the Steve Jobs-like executive at a technology company selling MP3 players in the shape of realistic naked women (the iBabe), he and his board incredulous that teenage boys might injure themselves fondling the devices' genitalia because it's where the engineers have put the cooling fan.

Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant are a couple on a date egging each other on to ever-more ridiculous heights during a game of truth or dare. Real life couple Liev Schrieber and Naomi Watts play a couple home schooling their son the way he'd ordinarily be treated – ie bullied – at school (the segment that actually eclitied my only out-loud laugh in the movie).

Then-real life couple Chris Pratt and Anna Faris play a couple very in love, he trying his best to satisfy her desire for sexual coprophilia. Emma Stone is a trashy girl reconnecting with her former boyfriend while he works as a supermarket check-out operator. Jason Sudeikis, Justin Long, Kristen Bell and Leslie Bibb play speed dating superheroes, Batman trolling Robin mercilessly. Chloë Grace Moretz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse feature in the least tasteful instalment, about a young girl getting her period.

Want more? Seann William Scott, Johnny Knoxville, Terrence Howard, Anton Yelchin, Shane Jacobson, Julianne Moore, Bob Odenkirk and Gerard Butler are all convinced/tricked/blackmailed into appearing, each skit more tasteless and less funny than the last. That several sequences were cut when they were considered too offensive – including one about necrophilia – gives you an idea of what they left in.

The original theatrical cut had the framing device of Greg Kinnear and Dennis Quaid as a studio executive and a director during a pitching session, but it seems their lawyers successfully buried their participation as best as they could. The version I saw had three teenagers searching online for the titular urban myth video, one that puts the Chinese Mafia on their trail and ultimately brings about the apocalypse.

It's a shame the apocalyspe didn't descend before they started pointing cameras at this cesspit, sparing us all. Don't watch it because you expect a good or even decent comedy – it's neither. Watch it simply to remind yourself about how little real control actors have over their direct interface with the audience. They agree to a project with an understanding of how it will be put together, what sort of tone it will have and how it will be pitched after reading the script and talking it over with their director, and what appears on screens can be comething completely different.

And in case you do spend the whole movie wondering... just... how, the producer Charles Wessler apparently got the Winslet/Jackman segment in the can and used that to finance the rest of the movie. He spent the next four years collecting stars and stories together, none of them with any idea about the rest of the movie but simply falling for his line about doing something 'unconventional'. He was right about that, but he forgot to leave out 'abysmallly unfunny'.

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