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Movie 43, an omnibus of lazily connected comedy shorts, does not begin with its best foot forward. It does, however, lead below the belt, with Hugh Jackman playing a nice guy unfortunately saddled with a ball sac for an Adam’s apple. (There’s a reason the blogosphere is calling this the Norbit moment for newly minted Oscar nominee Jackman.) Judging by the closing credits, writers Rocky Russo and Jeremy Sosenko are culpable for this segment and other lowlights, including a wincing framing story involving Dennis Quaid as a twitchy screenwriter pitching each short as a screenplay idea to studio exec Greg Kinnear.
Out of the 12 sketches, there are a handful that demonstrate a twisted wit a cut above yawning dick jokes: Director Will Graham’s “Homeschooled” pits Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber (in molester glasses) as bullying parents committed to giving their homeschooled son (Jeremy Allen White) the entire range of teenage experience, from bullying to alienation to an awkward, first gay experience, ickily role-played with his dad; writer Will Carlough’s “Superhero Speed Dating” plays like an SNL sketch unloosed from FCC concerns about pubic hair punch lines; and “Veronica” – written by Will Carlough, directed by Griffin Dunne – turns the fluorescent environs of a grocery store checkout line into the stage for an epic white-trash love connection between Emma Stone and Kieran Culkin. It rather boggles the mind how so many micromanaging handlers allowed their A-list talent to participate in a production that looks funded from a frat-house’s loose-couch-change collection, and at the end of the day, I’m not sure vaunting, say, the chicken-or-the-egg argument about HPV infection in “Veronica” is necessarily distinguishing wheat from the chaff. But in Movie 43’s better-suited afterlife in the home-entertainment market, those sort of quandaries can be hashed out between bong rips and bags of Cheetos.
Movie 43, Steven Brill, Peter Farrelly, Will Graham, Steve Carr, Griffin Dunne, James Duffy, Jonathan van Tulleken, Elizabeth Banks, Patrik Forsberg, Brett Ratner, Rusty Cundieff, James Gunn, Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Anna Faris, Chris Pratt, Emma Stone, Greg Kinnear, Seth MacFarlane, Naomi Watts, Richard Gere, Bobby Cannavale, Justin Long, John Hodgman