Going all-out for the grossest of the gross-out

Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts as homeschooling parents are among the many performers who pop up in "Movie 43".

Movie 43 is a collection of one-joke short films strung together as a feature, movies seemingly built on this guiding directive: Find big-name stars and see how far they'll go for a laugh.

Thus, you have Kate Winslet on a blind date with Hugh Jackman trying not to notice - or be utterly revolted by - the scrotum growing out of his neck. There's Halle Berry caught up in a first-date game of Truth or Dare with Brit comic Stephen Merchant that involves tattoos, plastic surgery, and sitting still while Snooki from Jersey Shore gives an interpretive reading of Moby Dick.

If you're the sort who laughs at the title of that novel, this might be the movie for you - a dizzying array of actors in a wide variety of oh-no-they-didn't sketches, almost all using sex as punch lines.

About a third of the short films land laughs, but even the weakest material is lifted by the players. One bit that works, directed by Elizabeth Banks, has Chloe Moretz on an after-school date, having her first menstrual period, with every male in the house - including Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Patrick Warburton - freaking out.

After seeing this, it'll be hard to think of Gerard Butler as anything but a special-effects leprechaun, cursing at being captured and tortured "for me Lucky Charms" by Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott.

Oscar nominee Naomi Watts and husband Liev Schreiber play homeschoolers who torment their teen with a "real" high school experience - an insulting teacher, a bullying gym coach, awkward "first date" makeout sessions with Mom and simulated first gay come-on from Dad. "It should be the unhappiest time in a boy's life!"

The connecting sketches - Dennis Quaid pitching these various film ideas to a stunned studio executive (Greg Kinnear) - don't work at all. An Anna Faris/ Chris Pratt digestive-tract joke (she longs to have her man empty his bowels on her) has a "Yeah, hasn't Anna Faris already played that?" feel. Same with Terrence Howard's "You're black and they're white" inspiring basketball coach segment.

One thing we've never seen - an iPod (remember those?) upgrade that's called "iBabe," which is repeatedly misused, in a sexual way, by customers. Richard Gere, Kate Bosworth, and Jack McBrayer sit in on the company crisis meeting over the injuries male customers are suffering with this badly designed gadget.

Movie 43 is short, despite cumbersome credits - 10 directors, a scattering of writers, and a whole posse of stars. And if Emma Stone and Kieran Culkin having a screaming flirtation at a kinky supermarket checkout register - "You look like the kid who got cancer for Christmas!" - doesn't do it for you, maybe the next big stars/short film will.


Movie 43 *1/2 (Out of four stars)

Directed by Elizabeth Banks, Brett Ratner, Peter Farrelly, Griffin Dunne, Bob Odenkirk, Steve Carr, Steven Brill, James Gunn, James Duffy, Rusty Cundieff, Patrik Forsberg, Jonathan van Tulleken. With Halle Berry, Kate Winslet, Terrence Howard, Elizabeth Banks, Uma Thurman, Richard Gere, Hugh Jackman, Johnny Knoxville, Naomi Watts, Gerard Butler, Emma Stone. Distributed by Rogue-Relativity.

Running time: 1 hour, 39 mins.

Parents' guide: R ( strong pervasive crude and sexual content including dialogue, graphic nudity, language, some violence, and drug use).

Playing at: area theaters.