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It’s no wonder Hugh Jackman, up for a best actor Oscar for his performance in Universal’s Les Miserables, stayed far away from the Jan. 23 Los Angeles premiere of sketch comedy Movie 43, a series of unrelated vignettes, one grosser than the next.
In the R-rated film, Jackman plays a single man who has testicles dangling from his neck, a shocking discovery for his blind date (Kate Winslet) and no doubt to the awards team pushing Les Mis.
He’s not the only Academy Award contender who appears in Movie 43, which was ravaged by reviewers and bombed at the domestic box office during its Jan. 25-27 opening weekend, grossing a meager $4.8 million. Naomi Watts, a best actress nominee for The Impossible, and her real-life husband, Liev Schreiber, play a couple whose idea of homeschooling is for the mother to simulate kissing with her son. Not exactly the stuff of Oscar glory.
Movie 43 – the brainchild of Peter Farrelly and Charles Wessler, the team behind hits including There’s Something About Mary – assembled one of the most ambitious ensemble casts in history, as actors including Elizabeth Banks, Halle Berry, Gerard Butler, Chloe Grace Moretz, Uma Thurman and Richard Gere (who was nominated for a Golden Globe this year for Arbitrage) threw caution to the wind. “The point was movie stars doing outrageous things. It’s a concept that’s never been done before,” says one insider. “Now we know why. It was impossible to market a movie that’s a series of sketches.”
Relativity Media, which made the film for a modest $6 million, says for the record that Movie 43 was a “creative risk worth taking.” Yet few of the A-list actors in the film showed up for Relativity’s premiere, with Banks, Kristen Bell and Justin Long all canceling at the last minute, and Butler only showing up at the afterparty. “Honestly,” says the insider, “I think they were scared.”
Veteran box-office pundit Paul Dergarabedian applauds Relativity for trying something original. “I like that they swung for the fences,” he says, “but the concept just didn’t work.”
Part of the problem: Movie 43 targeted males between the ages of 17 and 25, the very same consumers who have been shying away from the multiplex in favor of the Internet and video games. “The concept of short sketches in the age of the Internet was an old-fashioned premise,” the insider added. “Younger people just didn’t go for it. They can watch the same sort of thing on YouTube.”
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