Friday, January 17, 2014

2013 Post-Mortem Special 2: The Punishment Movie - Movie 43: The Kentucky Fried Abortion

Well, I asked you guys to vote.
And, with the exception of two people, no one did. Given those two each voted differently, that left things at an impasse.
Summarily, where democracy fails, totalitarianism must step up to the plate and make the decision we'll all look back on later as a mistake.

So, in thinking over what to pick for this year's punishment movie, I have to admit - I had a LOT of options to choose from. I mean, when 2013 was good, it was quite good, but when it was bad...

Prior to this voluntary seeking out of disappointment, I think I'd have given my pick for worst movie I saw last year to Oz the Great and Powerful. I mean, I did see a number of rather wanting titles last year, but in most cases I was still able to find some redeemable elements in them. The more I look back at Oz, the more I realize I got almost nothing from it. It felt like an incomplete film which largely consisted of James Franco acting like a jerk and learning nothing from it.

But, as the title suggests, that's not what we're here to discuss. Movie 43 was a film I can't believe I'd forgotten when I put together my list of potential candidates for this year's punishment movie. In part because everything about this movie smacked of a train wreck. Not even like a little train wreck, either. I'm talking a massive, horrifying sprawl of a train wreck where the train jumps the tracks on just the right stretch that, as it skids, it annihilates an orphanage, a hospital, and shelters for various walks of life before it finally encounters enough resistance to come to a complete stop. The kind of wreck that, by virtue of its very existence, drives the devout to question their faith in a higher power. What I'm trying to say here - this movie sounded like a MASSIVE mess. In fact, the first time I saw an ad for it, I actually didn't think it was a real movie. It sounded more like the trailer itself was the whole thing as a joke on the various 'all star anthology' comedies we've been getting off and on over the years, largely around the holidays. So when it finally came out (in theaters no less!) I found myself for a time marveling that this was actually in existence. My only viable theory was the trailer itself was the joke project that some studio exec watched and asked "So where's the rest of it?"

Of course, that may just be the last shreds of my faith in humanity talking.

Suffice it to say, between this and having some people try and talk me out of subjecting myself to this film, I had a pretty safe bet for this year's punishment movie.

So, last night I sat down with the movie, perfectly content to find myself with a film I could eviscerate. Something that I would figuratively paint the walls in its blood to the strains of a Mastodon album. Really, in case it's not clear, yes, I do take a certain sick thrill in being able to completely dismember a crappy movie sometimes. Part of WHY I'm continuing this tradition.

But, a curious thing happened. I can't really call it miraculous for reasons I'll get into. The movie was bad, don't get me wrong. But I didn't feel the same urge to destroy I got with last year's choice of Smiley. I mean, as some people can attest to, that movie REALLY irked me. I don't know if it was the squandered potential, the laughably terrible view of the internet, or just the convoluted-as-Hell two-twist ending they tried to drop on me, but I walked away from that movie wanting to physically hurt the filmmakers. That hasn't happened to me since my first time seeing Birdemic...and I usually enjoy terrible films like that. Instead, I found myself walking away from this movie with a strange sense of indifference. It wasn't the, and I'm going to quote here, and again, people can attest to this, 'horribly skull-fucking awful' title I was expecting. Mostly, it was just boring.

For those who don't remember this movie - and that's likely to be a lot of people, that's understandable. It fell off the radar pretty quick when it came out, and only recently made a splash again thanks to its netting several nominations at this year's Golden Raspberry Awards two days ago. Like I said, I'd even forgotten about it until browsing through the list of films that came out last year. Then that feeling of utter disbelief came rushing back and I just had to give it the go. One part because, again, people tried to talk me out of it. The other part because, to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I'd have been able to believe this movie existed fully if I hadn't watched it myself to confirm. I mean, there's some films which you can believe got made without any question. The existence of this simply defied all logic for me until finally seeing the thing in full.
Said disbelief was than replaced by a vague sense of disappointment that it wasn't something almost Lovecraftian in its defiance of human comprehension.

But, I've spent long enough flying around this airport. Time to suck it up, bring it in for a landing and go meet the locals, shall we?

For starters, as the previews suggest, Movie 43 is designed to be a callback to the anthology comedy films of years past. This includes titles like The Kentucky Fried Movie, The Groove Tube, Amazon Women on the Moon, and Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. In this case, the talent pool the film harvests from is.. Look, for a movie that was made on a budget of six million dollars, the talent pool is pretty staggering. To start, the movie had thirteen directors, including, but not limited to: Peter Farrelly, Brett Ratner, Elizabeth Banks, and an uncredited Bob Odenkirk (based on everything I've heard about Odenkirk, I suspect it was his sense of perfectionism that drove him to take his name off of this one, but I digress.) These thirteen directors were working off of a script/series of scripts put together by twenty writers, again including an uncredited Odenkirk. All of this was then acted out by a list of actors who, again, given the budget of this movie, are pretty staggering. To rattle just a few off the top of my head: Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Richard Gere, Halle Berry, Dennis Quaid, Seth MacFarlane (these two only in certain cuts, will get into that soon), Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Terrence Howard, Gerard Butler, Chris Pratt, Anna Faris...I can keep going. Point is, there is a LOT of creative talent being dumped into a space of 100 minutes and a budget of six million dollars. The cast in particular is something of a mystery, one made even more unusual/convoluted by the allegations that many of the cast members were effectively badgered or guilted into appearing in the movie. I've yet to find a smoking gun on that one yet, but based on all of the circumstances around the film, it certainly makes sense.

Fun Fact #3423: Never, never, never ask Gerard Butler about The Bounty Hunter.

As I said above, there are two particular cuts of the movie. This is a point worth bringing up, especially since it alters the unifying point of all of these sketches - in one version, the sketches are being pitched by a mad man to a movie executive, the other pitches the idea as a sort of digital age snipe hunt for the titular movie - a film so controversial as to be banned everywhere. In fact, the stories two of this version's three characters pitch about the mythical Movie 43 sound more interesting than what we did get. In this version, the shorts are various banned videos discovered while trying to find 43, and along the way, giving the impression this thing may in fact be real, and very, very dangerous.

Granted, in either version, the majority of the film is still comprised of the sketches. Those...your mileage will vary.

The way I see it, there are three particular problems this movie has going for it. The first of these is with regards to the talent pool. People have pointed out in this movie's defense, that if one is a fan of other sketch comedy films, this shouldn't be that different. Let's compare some of those for a moment, shall we?

Now, I'm going to run some numbers here of some of the various movies mentioned above, and again, I want you all to remember: Movie 43 sports thirteen directors and twenty writers while I rattle these numbers off.

The Kentucky Fried Movie:
Directors - 1
Writers - 3

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life:
Directors - 2
Writers - 6

The Groove Tube:
Directors - 1
Writers - 3

Monty Python's And Now For Something Completely Different:
Directors - 1
Writers - 6

Amazon Women on the Moon:
Directors - 5
Writers - 2

History of the World Part 1:
Directors - 1
Writers - 1

By now, in theory, you're beginning to see what I'm getting at. This movie's creative pool is heavily bloated. Like, Mr. Creosote at the end of his meal bloated (to make another sketch shout-out.) Each category of Movie 43 is more than double the most of these offerings in terms of people they're working with.

What does this mean here? For one thing, there's no real sense of cohesion. Even the overarching Pitch/Thread stories don't really help hold this together. There are a few people who work multiple sketches, but largely, they're different teams, which makes the film feel like it's just sort of drifting. Interestingly, this is not really an issue I've had with other sketch comedy movies to this point. Even when they have different casts, there's either enough of a unifying idea or similar sense of humor to really keep everything tied together. Here, it almost feels like everyone just got left to their own devices and figured "Screw it, the editors will sort it all out afterward." Well, in theory. Each editor gets credited for an individual skit, but no one seems to have been credited for putting this all together. Further adding to that feeling of lack of cohesion, one sketch doesn't even get underway until the credits are partly underway. Now, this would be okay if this were only maybe a minute or two long - but the sketch in question is a solid six or seven minutes in length. That's a sizable chunk of time to be wedging mid-credits.

This is probably the best time to segue into the second problem this movie has - timing. Now, anyone who's ever looked up the basic principles for making good comedy, there is one constant everyone tells you matters: timing. It's that sense of knowing just how far to take a joke to get the most out of it without killing the humor. It is the core aspect that all good comedy lives and dies by. Unfortunately for this movie, its comic sense of timing is, for the most part, pretty bad. One of the problems I kept encountering in this was the fact that the actual humorous material in these sketches wasn't really enough to match up to the actual length of the sketches. The first sketch is probably one of the most overt examples of this - a woman (Winslet) finds herself on a blind date with a charming man (Jackman) who happens to have a set of balls on his neck.
That's it. That's the whole joke.

There. I just saved you seven minutes.
You're welcome.

Yet this sketch runs for a solid seven minutes and seventeen seconds. It's the third longest in the movie not counting the Pitch/Thread, which is going to be longest by function. The joke quickly wears out its welcome in trying to find new ways for Winslet to be uncomfortable with this pair of testicles that no one else seems to see or mind. This is the kind of thing that could work as a quick cutaway gag. Something you set up for maybe two minutes - Hell, you play up to just the reveal and that's all the punchline you really need here. The rest just feels like that nervous comic who keeps repeating the punchline to a joke when it falls flat, hoping maybe the crowd just didn't hear it the first time. Even some of the shorter sketches feel like they could stand to be tightened up - a sketch for a fictional music player called the iBabe (which looks like a naked woman) suffers from the same problem as the first sketch - it really only has one joke it keeps repeating to itself over and over in the hopes we'll still find it funny. To its credit, it's one of the shorter installments, but even then, it feels like it overstays its welcome. Where the first problem suggests the movie has too many people for too little a span of time, their output, strangely enough, feels like they don't have enough material to fill the aloted time, so they resort to repetition, with only one sketch really providing much in the way of escalation to justify it.

At this point, I do have to admit, while a lot of this fell flat, there were two sketches I found actually decent, even if I still feel like one could stand to either tighten up or double down on the dark content it's going for. One being a sketch involving the parents of a homeschooled child (Schrieber and Watts) who have vowed that, despite homeschooling, they will give their son the complete high school experience. This involves the awkward and painful social moments, the disdain from teachers, and the open bullying and antagonism. It's an idea that, for this film, is actually a fairly clever pitch, and for their part, Watts and Schreiber do a pretty good job playing the part with a suitably straight face - particularly Schreiber. It's a fairly dark piece of humor, and while I do think it could have been improved, I do also have to admit, even as it is now, it certainly shows more promise than a lot of the sketches. The other standout for me was one where they actually got a decent sense of timing: a faux-PSA that only really runs for about ninety seconds. It's enough time to set up the joke and deliver its punchline - which, while not a gut-buster, is still amusing in a kind of absurd way.

You know what's really sad? Schrieber here is still a more entertaining and likable father than he was in the remake of The Omen.

Besides the time, the third and arguably biggest problem with a lot of these sketches is, and I will concede this is a highly subjective point, that the humor just doesn't really land. At least, not to me. I know some people did find this movie funny, and to them, let me just say good on you. For my part though, I just found the jokes reminded me of variations on a theme - gags I have seen performed elsewhere, and better, before this. In spite of myself, I found myself being reminded at many points of other jokes from other places throughout this movie. Not to the point where I would call this a rip-off by any means at least. But many still gave that lingering sense of "I remember laughing at this in..."

The result is a rather unfortunate combination from a comedy perspective - you go in with a joke that others have technically heard before, and not only that, it's your ace card. It makes it rather surprising that this film was the brainchild of 20 different comedic minds, and only one of them wanted their name taken off of it.

Now, I said before that I do acknowledge that some people did find this funny, so here's where I'll grant some benefit of the doubt. In a state of curiosity/masochism, I did check out the IMDb forums for this movie to see if maybe I was missing something. If maybe, like Nekromantik back in October, this was just a side effect of my being overly jaded. The results...well...
Maybe it's because my brain takes the implication that if you didn't laugh at something you're being a snob as a challenge, but I'm still just gonna try and get this out there. Again, in addressing the question of being jaded, I've looked at the things that have made me laugh and still do. I certainly have nothing against shock humor or dark comedy. In fact, I tend to take my humor like my coffee - black and capable of causing harm if aimed incorrectly. To this day, one of my fondest movie theater memories was seeing the film The Aristocrats, which got arguably one of the biggest reactions I've seen out of an audience to date. Likewise, of the running comedy series right now, two of my favorites have made a backbone of their humor out of the fact that their main characters are, without exception, HORRIBLE, the Seinfeld cast look like saints by comparison. So yeah, this isn't snobbishness. I'm all for some good tasteless humor if it's actually funny. Unfortunately, for me, Movie 43 wasn't that. With a few exceptions, it was mostly just lazy and uninspired. Which, again, for the amount of talent they had to draw from, is nothing short of surprising.

and considering there's people that have made better replica superhero outfits for considerably LESS than that...

So there you have it. I came expecting something that would be akin to the first fateful flight of the Event Horizon, and what I got was a largely uninteresting hundred minutes of film. I could spend this time wondering if maybe things would have been different had I picked another failure from last year - maybe one of them will come into the crosshairs later. But for now, I'm not seeing any other reason to pay this any more mind than I already have. In fact, I already feel like I've spent more time on this film than I would really want to admit to. To the backers of this movie, I commend your ability to get this many people together on a budget of only six million, but I just wish that, for all of that, you could have delivered a comedy with a bit more bite to it.

Ah well...there's always next time, eh?

Okay, in theory.

I promise, the post-mortem is almost over. All that's left now is the 'deleted scenes' and then we can get this year up and running (Because let's face it, there isn't anything worth seeing in January).

1 comment:

  1. I too have watched Movie 43 - UK Snape hunting version with Korean terrorists holding high school buddy to ransom. Yep, its very very bad and takes heroic levels of wit to make a full on autopsy as you have done. Yes, if I was a God I would rip the spines out of all 13 Directors, pin their souls to the end of each spine, beat their souls numerous times over a heavy wooden table Captain Blythe style like a cat of 13 tails, send them to eternal paradise to recover but enforce them to show extreme gratitude if they ever encountered me again. Aw hell.... this movie is really SICK! I give up, give the T Shirt to the next brave punter.