‘Movie 43’: How Hollywood’s Super-Star-Studded Movie Failed Unnoticed

How did a movie starring Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Halle Berry, Naomi Watts, and dozens of Hollywood’s biggest stars bomb so spectacularly?

01.28.13 9:45 AM ET

You may know it as the film in which Halle Berry dips her breast into a bowl of guacamole. Or perhaps the one where Hugh Jackman has testicles on his chin. More likely, however, is that you do not know what Movie 43 is at all.

Movie 43, a raunchy orgy of A-listers that puts the likes of Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve to shame, was spearheaded by Peter Farrelly, one half of the brothers behind Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary. The cast list reads like a who’s who of Hollywood: Berry, Jackman, Kate Winslet, Richard Gere, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber, Dennis Quaid, Elizabeth Banks, Uma Thurman, Gerard Butler, Kristen Bell, Seth MacFarlane, Chloë Grace Moretz, Terrence Howard, Anna Faris, Jason Sudeikis, Greg Kinnear, the list goes on. That’s 14 Oscar nominations and billions of box-office dollars among the sprawling cast. Plus, there is Snooki.

Such a cast would presumably make this comedy the movie event of the year. Instead, the film has come and gone with barely a whimper (or, apparently, even a chuckle). A flop in every sense of the word, Movie 43 barely mustered $5 million at the box office this past weekend, its debut frame, and is receiving a critical thrashing not administered since Gigli. As the industry ponders what in the world these actors were thinking, reports are now emerging about the film’s tortured four-year journey to screen. How were all these actors lured into participating in what will henceforth be known as Hollywood’s most star-studded disaster?

Certainly, the idea behind Movie 43 is exciting: an unprecedented roster of cinema supernovas breaking from their docket of serious films to throw caution to the wind and dive deep into uncharacteristically ribald fare. And dive they do. Twelve directors and 17 writers pieced together the loosely linked anthology, in which a struggling filmmaker (Quaid) desperately pitches a studio exec (Kinnear) a series of outlandish films, with each pitch playing out as its own—lascivious, tasteless—vignette.

There’s the aforementioned sketches, in which a game of truth or dare between Stephen Merchant and Berry ends with the latter plunging her (prosthetic) breast into guacamole, and a blind date between Winslet and Jackman can’t overcome her hang-up over his chin testicles. Real-life couple Faris and Chris Pratt share a romantic scene in which she requests he poop on her face. Moretz’s character has her first period, and the boys around her call 911 because their friend is bleeding from her vagina. Banks is peed on by a cartoon cat.

Perhaps the hope was to mine laughs by being provocative and outrageous, like with the infamous hair-gel scene in There’s Something About Mary or the toilet sequence from Dumb and Dumber. But what was meant to shock in Movie 43 barely ignited a spark.

Here’s a smattering of reviews: “There’s awful and THEN there’s Movie 43,” said Richard Roeper at the Chicago Sun-Times, going so far to call it “the Citizen Kane of awful.” The A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin calls the film “the most star-studded collection of jokes involving menstruation, flatulence, incest, bestiality, Snooki and nutsacks ever assembled, but the star’s don’t elevate the material—they just descend to it.” New York magazine’s David Edelstein, for one, found the film to be something of a marvel: “It’s rare to see a piece of shit that actually looks and sounds like a piece of shit. It’s kind of exciting!”

It’s not so out there that stars of this caliber would sign for a project like this. Celebrities letting loose by appearing in edgy comedy shorts is certainly nothing new. Look to the success of the sketches on Funny or Die, CollegeHumor, and even those annual Jimmy Kimmel post-Oscar bits for proof of that. In fact, that’s precisely the thought process that was used in recruiting the stars for Movie 43. “It’s like Funny or Die, only if you could go crazy,” Farrelly said. “Because with Funny or Die, there are certain limits. And we just wanted to do that kind of short and go much further than that.”

Producers chalk up the four-year process of getting the movie into theaters to the difficulty in accommodating the busy schedules of such in-demand stars, but new reports indicate more complicated reasons for the long slog.

About 15 years ago, producer Charles Wessler assembled Trey Parker and Matt Stone (South Park), Peter and Bob Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary), and David and Jerry Zucker (Naked Gun) to write and direct one third of the film each, but they all got cold feet at the idea of making such an aggressively R-rated movie marketed to teenagers.

Wessler persisted, eventually landing Jackman and Winslet for their short four years ago, which he used to pitch Relativity Media on a feature-length film with similar sketches. Then came the plea for talent. “Most agents would avoid me because they knew what I wanted to do—what agent wants to book their big client in a no-pay, $800-a-day, two-day shoot?” Wessler told The Hollywood Reporter. “The truth is, I had a lot of friends who were in this movie. And if they didn’t say yes, this movie wouldn’t have gotten made.”

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Most of the cast had no idea what the content of the other sketches would be like and, once they found out, apparently tried to jump ship. “But we wouldn’t let them,” Farrelly said, explaining that he would take any measure required to lock down the stars’ involvement. “Wait them out. Shoot when they want to shoot. Guilt them to death.” Gere apparently wanted out so badly that he demanded the production switch coasts to accommodate him, which, unfortunately for him, they did.

Some actors managed to escape. Colin Farrell was originally set for the foul-mouth leprechaun played by Butler, but dropped out. “Conveniently, he couldn’t make it,” Butler 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.” George Clooney reportedly told Farrelly to “fuck off.”

As a damning New York Post article essentially suggested, Farrelly “harassed most of the participants into being in this movie,” says Drew Taylor at Moviefone.

As such, the cast has done little—as in, no—promotion for the film, perhaps out of shame, perhaps out of logic, or perhaps because they've simply forgotten Movie 43 even exists. “We did it, and then cut to a year or something later they’re like, ‘Hey there’s a movie coming out,’” Liev Schrieber said recently when asked about the flick. “I’m like, ‘Uh-oh’ ... But you know, you do these things. We’ll see. It was a goof.”

Wessler himself probably makes the most accurate, self-aware assessment about the film: “It is a very awkward situation that we have two actors in this movie who are nominated for Academy Awards this year.” So congratulations, Hugh Jackman and Naomi Watts. You have your very own Norbit.