This Week at the Movies, Jan. 28 to Feb. 3

'Movie 43' is a complete disaster, while 'Parker' and 'Happy People' are modest successes.

They say that too many cooks spoil the broth, but I’m not sure if even the multitude of talent to be found in “Movie 43” could have saved this horrendous recipe.

The picture, which was shot over a period of four years by a handful of directors, aims to be a modern “Kentucky Fried Movie” or “The Groove Tube,” but plays as the worst of “Saturday Night Live” with a significantly more scatological tone.

The most shocking element of the picture is not the abundance of fecal matter, obvious shock tactics, violence or potty-mouthed dialogue, but the fact that so many truly talented people were suckered into participating.

The cast includes Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Richard Gere, Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber, Emma Stone, Dennis Quaid, Greg Kinnear, Anna Ferris, Uma Thurman, Justin Long, Halle Berry and Terrence Howard.

I can only imagine that long, sad talks with agents occurred throughout the past weekend.

The film plays as a series of vulgar shorts that are linked by a tepid wraparound story involving a warped screenwriter (Quaid) pitching his ideas to a studio executive (Greg Kinnear).

The tales involve a woman (Winslet) on a date with a man (Jackman) with a scrotum hanging from his neck, a couple (Watts, Schreiber) that homeschools their child and believes the need to give him the “full high school experience,” another date in which a game of Truth or Dare goes too far, a young woman (Chloe Grace Moretz) getting her first period in front of a group of obnoxious men and an evening of speed dating with Batman and Robin, which I thought was the film’s single worst entry.

The most depressing element of the whole experience is not the depths at which each short film sinks to be grotesque, but that most of the material just isn’t funny.

The financial and critical flop “Howard the Duck” is referenced during one of the skits. That film may be remembered through rose-colored glasses now that “Movie 43” exists.

Jason Statham plays an extension of the characters he typically portrays in Taylor Hackford’s violent thriller “Parker.” But he does so with a level of professionalism, reminding me of action starts of movies past – such as Charles Bronson – whose performances were not particularly varied, but brought with them a certain aura.

In the Statham oeuvre, “Parker” falls somewhere in the middle. It’s not a great picture, but it passes the time and provides some modest thrills.

The film, which is based on a novel by Donald E. Westlake, follows the story of the titular figure, a thief with a conscience who refuses to steal from those who can’t afford it or harm anyone who doesn’t deserve it.

Parker is a man of principle. Near the picture’s beginning, a group of thieves with whom he pulls a heist leave him for dead on the side of the road.

The rest of the film is dedicated to his pursuit of these men. He’s not so much in it for the money, but because he believes that people should live by a certain code of honor.

The picture stumbles in its second half following the introduction of a real estate agent played by Jennifer Lopez. The actress’s performance is fine, but her character quickly becomes grating due to the screenplay’s insistence on her consistently poor decision-making.

“Parker” is better than many of the films that typically get dumped into theaters in January, but that’s still pretty faint praise.

Although I appreciated the obvious amount of effort and scenic beauty in “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga,” I wondered why it was missing the strangeness and cosmic soul searching typically associated with a Werner Herzog documentary.

As it turns out, the legendary German filmmaker only narrated and co-directed the picture with Dmitry Vasyukov, who filmed the entire picture and did all the groundwork.

The footage in the 90-minute documentary is, in fact, part of a four-hour film made by Vasyukov for Russian television. Herzog was able to pick and choose scenes for a condensed version, for which he added voiceover commentary.

The result is an interesting film that provides a peek into the harsh lives of trappers living in an isolated, snowbound Siberian outpost.

But while the movie is respectfully made, it’s lacking a certain je ne sais quoi that made Herzog’s “Grizzly Man” a modern nonfiction classic or “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” so compelling.

“Happy People” has a few awe-inspiring moments and it’s a well-made look at a unique way of life. But it doesn’t quite rank with Herzog’s best.

Had the director made the trek to the taiga, I’d imagine this could be a completely different picture.

“Movie 43” and "Parker" are both playing at The Pavilion.

“Happy People: A Year in the Taiga” is playing at Manhattan’s IFC Center.


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