How does a comedy with so much star power -- more than two dozen big-name celebrities earned top billing, including at least two past Oscar winners and two current nominees -- and still fail to open big?
You can't exactly call "Movie 43" a failure; it reportedly cost just $6 million to make, with all the actors working for union scale and pre-sold deals with entities like Netflix for its ancillary rights. And no one expected the film to perform significantly better than it did. Still, it seems an extravagant waste -- that much talent used to so little effect. Surely a movie with that many stars should have opened a lot bigger, right? Or was this the best the movie could have done?
Here are some lessons for next time, in case someone wants to make "Movie 44."
The title was terrible. There was no indication from the title what the movie was about. Granted, it's hard to come up with a title that tells you a film is an all-star series of unrelated raunchy comedy sketches, but the title the filmmakers came up with is so generic that it feels like a cop-out.
Star Power alone isn't enough. There have been a handful off all-star comedies like this over the years, from the extravagantly expensive ("Around the World in 80 Days," "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World") to the inside-jokey (Robert Altman's "The Player" or "Pret-a-Porter") to the cultish ("The Ten," made by the same folks who gave you "Wet Hot American Summer"). Such movies generally add up to less than the sum of their parts, both at the box office and as moviegoing experiences. (Altman's "Player," which earned several awards and was a modest hit, may be the lone exception of the last three decades or so.) "Movie 43" seemed to fit the pattern in that, aside from the impressive cast, it earned disappointing reviews and weak word-of-mouth.
Haphazard marketing gets haphazard results. The movie wasn't screened for critics (never a good sign), didn't get much advertising (except on MTV, which makes sense), and opened on just 2,043 screens (barely qualifying as a wide release these days). The stars were hardly enlisted to promote it. Current Oscar nominees Hugh Jackman and Naomi Watts are making the talk-show rounds and red-carpet circuit these days, yet you hardly ever hear them mention their newest release. (Of course, if, like Jackman, you were playing a man with testicles dangling from his chin, you might be tight-lipped, too.)
Too many cooks. Besides its two dozen stars, the film boasted a dozen directors and about 18 credited writers. The result was bound to be either comedy by committee or wildly hit-and-miss depending on who worked on what. (According to the critics, the latter turned out to be the case.)
Peter Farrelly may have lost his touch. Farrelly, one of the driving forces behind the project, practically invented the modern gross-out comedy with his brother Bobby on such '90s films as "Dumb and Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary." But those films had heart, and they had premises that extended beyond just one joke. Nothing Farrelly has done in recent years has connected like those early movies did.
The movie opened against two other R-rated films. So it was competing in the marketplace for the same young adults who were targeted to see "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" and "Parker." And there just wasn't enough enthusiasm to pry that group out of their warm living rooms at this cold winter moment. Because...
Late January is a bad time to open anything. Unless you're Liam Neeson, who was absent from the screen this month, but who has scored well in recent Januaries with such films as "The Grey," "Unknown," and "Taken." Maybe the filmmakers should have sprung for his salary.