You’d think a movie starring Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Halle Berry, Richard Gere, Liev Schreiber, Uma Thurman, Emma Stone, Jason Sudeikis, Elizabeth Banks and Terrence Howard — just to name a few — would have a prestigious December release date, a splashy premiere and a shot at the Oscars.
So why is “Movie 43” getting dumped — quickly and quietly — in theaters this Friday?
“The studio is not hiding it,” says producer Peter Farrelly. “We knew it would have to find its audience, and believe me, it will.” Even if half of Hollywood is running the other way. “Movie 43” was 10 years in the making. It’s the brainchild of Farrelly’s longtime producing partner Charlie Wessler, who wanted to make a “Kentucky Fried Movie” for the modern age.
No studio would touch it. Nor would a certain segment of the A-list: Farrelly says that when he approached George Clooney about playing himself in a sketch (the gag: George Clooney is bad at picking up women), Clooney told him, “No f--king way.”
None of the stars has promoted the film on talk shows or in magazines — which only generates more curiosity about what may the weirdest theatrical release ever. Judging from the trailer, it’s not hard to see why most of the cast is keeping their distance. A loose assemblage of self-contained comedy sketches, “Movie 43” features Anna Faris as a young woman asking her boyfriend “Will you poop on me?”; Berry shoving her breasts in a bowl of guacamole; Jackman and Winslet on a first date, with Winslet distracted by the balls hanging from Jackman’s chin; Stone and Kieran Culkin fighting over who gave whom STDs; Gerard Butler as a leprechaun who threatens to cut off Johnny Knoxville’s “balls and feed ’em to ya!”
“I just want to reinforce that the movie wasn’t an attempt to shock,” says producer John Penotti. They did, after all, cut a sketch about necrophilia. “That’ll be on the DVD,” Wessler says. Initially, Trey Parker and Matt Stone — creators of “South Park” and “The Book of Mormon” — were involved, but they dropped out. So did the famed Zucker brothers (“Kentucky Fried Movie,” “Airplane!”). “I pitched this thing to every studio,” Wessler says. “Every executive. Nannies at parties.” Farrelly remained the biggest name on the project; in the mid-’90s, he and brother Bobby were responsible for hits such as “Dumb & Dumber,” “Kingpin” and “There’s Something About Mary.”
The $6 million budget was funded by Relativity Media, which is also distributing the film. Other potential backers, Farrelly says, “didn’t believe it could happen — a movie with Kate Winslet for $6 million.” The pitch was also a challenge. “It’s hard to visualize,” Wessler says. “It’s not your typical boy-meets-girl story.” And the title itself is little help in selling it to audiences: “Movie 43,” the filmmakers say, means nothing. Farrelly heard his son talking with friends about a film called “Movie 43” — and when Farrelly discovered the film didn’t exist, he cribbed the name.
The slapdash title, the lack of promotion and advance screenings, the release date — none of it bodes well, says Entertainment Weekly senior editor Thom Geier. “January is usually where movies go to die,” Geier says. And to go by the trailer — the only option — the content seems dated. Or, as Geier put it, the movie’s humor is “gross-out for gross-out’s sake. The Judd Apatow school of gross-out humor has a heart to it. But these small, three-minute doses seem like something audiences would rather consume on ‘Funny or Die.’ ” Farrelly disagrees. “Kids, teenagers, 50-somethings who still smoke pot — they’re all going to find something here,” he says.
Jackman, whom Wessler met at a wedding, was the first to sign on, and Winslet soon followed. The filmmakers used their reel to attract other A-listers. “Hugh and Kate gave them permission,” Wessler says. “Everyone has a secret need to be funny. They don’t need to take a risk to be in a short where their biggest desire is [getting] pooped [on].” The Jackman-Winslet sketch was filmed nearly four years ago, and the rest were cobbled together as people made themselves available — sometimes in super-casual ways.
John Hodgman, who plays the Penguin opposite Justin Long’s Robin (the sketch, based on a Web video Long had done, involves Batman meddling in Robin’s love life), signed on with no knowledge of the project. Long, Hodgman’s co-star in the long-running series of Apple “I’m a Mac” commercials, asked him, and that was enough. “I got an e-mail from Justin that said, ‘I’m going to be dressing up as Robin again. Do you want to dress up as the Penguin?’ And I said yes. Without even realizing cameras would be involved, or that it would be a movie. Justin is one of the funniest people on earth.”
Others weren’t so affable. In fact, some stars hedged: Gere, a friend of Wessler’s, said yes — though he wouldn’t be available for more than a year. Wessler waited him out. He thought the idea was too good: Gere plays a Steve Jobs-like character whose company is producing an “iBabe” — a naked woman in a box with a malfunctioning port. “His executive staff is trying to explain to him that this product is cutting off boys’ penises,” Wessler says, “and he just doesn’t get it. He cannot figure out why boys are putting their penises in it.” Gere eventually called Wessler and told him he was free to shoot, on just a couple of conditions: They had to do it in four days. Oh, and they needed to relocate the shoot from LA to New York.
Did the filmmakers ever suspect that their friends were trying to back out of the project?
“They clearly wanted out!” says Farrelly. “But we wouldn’t let them.” The strategy, he says, was simple: “Wait for them. Shoot when they want to shoot. Guilt them to death.” It didn’t work on everyone. Colin Farrell initially agreed to be in the Butler leprechaun sketch — as Butler’s brother, also a leprechaun — then thought better of it. “Conveniently, he couldn’t make it,” Butler has said. “ ‘Oh, no, I think I need to cut my toenails’ may have been the excuse. It’s like, c’mon, Colin, you saw sense and backed out — admit it.”