Well, it’s been a while since a movie made me physically ill. I guess I was due for one.
I admit to being optimistically curious when I first walked into Movie 43. Anthology films are tragically rare these days, and the trailer had had more than a few genuinely funny moments. And while I am loathe to use hyperbole for the sake of humor about any movie... well, I don’t use images of Fluttershy puking lightly.
To best articulate how painfully unfunny this movie is, I will describe the first short to you, which takes up roughly the first 5-10 minutes of the movie. Kate Winslet is on a blind date with Hugh Jackman, who is of course the perfect date: handsome, charming, wealthy, everything a girl could want. There’s just one minor... um, physical peculiarity that Kate can’t stop staring at, but everyone else seems oblivious too. He’s got... well, you remember the Ballchinian from Men in Black II?
Yeah. It’s like that. That’s the joke for the entirety of the first interminable short. They lifted the worst joke from Men in Black II of all things, a joke you might remember lasting all of five seconds, and padded it out into a five-minute short. “Ooh gross, pubic hair got in his soup!” “Ooh gross, he’s accidentally teabagging that little boy!” It’s just that, and Kate Winslet feeling as uncomfortable as the audience, for five seemingly endless minutes. And it only goes downhill from there.
Let me stop you right there and get what you’re immediately thinking out of the way: No, I’m not a prude, and no, I’m not above lowbrow humor. In theory, I’m fine with taboo or unpleasant subject matter being mined for comedy (though I will say that with the exception of George Carlin, no one has ever made me laugh at a fart, and I doubt anyone ever will). But I do take exception to gross-out humor for its own sake. Gross-outs are fine if they’re in the service of an actual joke, but not if it by itself is meant to be the joke. “It’s disgusting, therefore it is funny” is just not a sentiment I agree with.
A few of the shorts are clever in concept, but are rarely funny in execution. One features Liev Schreiber and his real-life girlfriend Naomi Watts taking a disturbingly literal approach to homeschooling. As someone who actually was homeschooled, to my eternal regret, I could at least appreciate its intent, but somehow it still never clicked. The best short by far comes at the end and stars Terrence Howard in a brief spoof of inspirational period piece sports dramas about desegregation. Sure, it’s still just one joke, but it mostly manages not to overstay its welcome for once, and brings us the only genuine laughs in the movie. No wonder they put almost the whole thing in the trailer.
Never before have I seen so many people come together on a project and manage to produce something so nauseatingly difficult to sit through. It’s like going to amateur comedy night: the performers are there to entertain themselves, not so much you. Hope Peter Farrelly and all his famous friends had fun getting together to waste 6 million bucks, because that is all that has been accomplished here.
You know, back in 2006, I would’ve called Snakes on a Plane a fluke. A fun experiment not likely to be repeated. But between this, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, it appears the “sounds like a joke but is actually a real movie” movie is officially a real genre. And I know you don’t wanna hear this, but here’s the bad news: it’s actually good.
Yeah, I know you were looking forward to endlessly mocking this one, seeing a dumb idea justly fail, but in an age that loves to hate, director Tommy Wirkola has done the worst thing imaginable: gone and made a good movie out of it. It’s not exceptionally great, but I’ll say the same thing for this that I said for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. This is the best possible result we could’ve asked for from a premise like this.
If the title wasn’t explanation enough, the movie is framed as a hypothetical sequel to the classic Hansel and Gretel story, in which the two children upon surviving their encounter with a witch grow up to be professional witch hunters. Now, unlike vampire hunters or werewolf hunters, which are of course fictional professions, witch hunting was a real thing, and it wasn’t exactly the kind of activity one should admire. Mostly it involved reactionary, superstitious mobs burning, drowning, and otherwise executing innocent women. The movie is very aware of this, and is quick to differentiate between the professional Hansel and Gretel who know a witch when they see one, and the ignorant local authorities ready to hang any innocent girl who looks at them funny. Additionally, there’s a running subplot about the siblings learning that good witches actually do exist*, just in case actual practicing Wiccans out there are offended by the title.
The basic style of the film is some combination of The Brothers Grimm and Van Helsing, but manages to be superior to both of those, or at the very least more entertaining. A big part of that is that unlike other R-rated action offerings this months, the film actual makes use of its rating. The film is wall-to-wall gore, some CG, some practical, but all of it red and messy. The action is pretty relentless, but never quite exhausting, and with the menagerie of creatively deformed witches queuing up for the slaughter, it certainly commands your attention. Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner both have good action hero screen presences, and with Peter Stormare and Famke Janssen hamming it up for them to face off against, it makes for a well-utilized cast. Also, there’s a pretty decent-looking animatronic troll in there too, so that’s cool.
The movie is flagrantly anachronistic, so much so that it’s actually rather charming. The actors make no attempt to speak in a period specific way, casually throwing around modern profanity and euphemisms in midwestern American accents. The guns and technology are steampunk of the highest order, meaning essentially modern guns dressed up to look old-ish, though at one point they’re clearly using modern ammunition. They have old-timey versions of everything: scrapbooks, missing children posters on milk bottles; at one point they use a phonograph with a record made out of stone. The Flintstones would be proud. The movie just does not give a fuck, and the effect is that it feels less like a period piece and more like a renaissance festival that got out of hand.
Don’t let me oversell this; the film is shallow, silly, and likely not that memorable, but it’s fun while you’re watching it, and is easily the best time at the movies I’ve had this month. Though to be honest, after seeing Movie 43, everything looks good in comparison.
*It’s easy to differentiate the good witches from the bad ones. The evil ones are uglier, you see. Except for Famke Janssen of course. Even under that old crone makeup, she’s still smokin’.