Scary Movie 4

Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 12/26/06 23:48:07

2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

When "Airplane!" came out twenty-five years ago, it didn't depend on our knowledge of the "Airport" movies to be funny. It used the basic "Airport" situation as a clothesline on which to hang jokes that would've been funny in any context. For that reason, "Airplane!" is still considered a comedy classic. I wonder if anyone will be watching "Scary Movie 4" twenty-five years from now and calling it a classic.

I'd guess not, and the reason is that it depends far too heavily on specific movie parodies, as all the Scary Movies have. These new parodies are built for audiences now, and built to make money now, with pop-culture references as up-to-the-minute as the filmmakers can manage. In a quarter of a century who's even going to remember that Tom Cruise went on Oprah's show and made an ass of himself? Who's going to remember Dr. Phil? Or Chingy? (Who is "Chingy"? I'm 36. I don't know.)

Scary Movie 4 will need to be annotated for the viewers of 2026 to understand it, and it almost needs to be annotated now. It assumes you've seen The Grudge, The Village, Spielberg's War of the Worlds, the Saw movies, and even Million Dollar Baby. How all these movies are mooshed together to make a coherent plot is a mystery the screenwriters haven't really solved. Then again, the very contrivance of somehow linking the hero and heroine from War of the Worlds and The Grudge is part of the movie's ramshackle appeal, I guess.

Not that there's much continuity running through the Scary Movie franchise, but series star Anna Faris is back as Cindy Campbell, the intrepid blonde who does whatever goofy thing the movie requires at any given moment. Faris is a good sport, and she has a certain slapstick charm, though I'd like to see her doing more films like Lost in Translation. Stepping into the Tom Cruise role is series newcomer Craig Bierko, who doesn't look a lot like Cruise and doesn't really bother to act like him either. Other returning Scary Movie veterans are Charlie Sheen (in an over-the-top Viagra gag), Anthony Anderson (who throws himself gamely into a Brokeback Mountain parody, which would've been funnier if I hadn't already seen the film parodied to death and beyond on the Internet), and old trouper Leslie Nielsen, reminding us wistfully of the brighter days of Airplane! and the Naked Gun movies.

Not only does Scary Movie 4 assume you've seen the films it roasts, it assumes you enjoyed them. For my part, as I watched farcical recreations of every other scene in War of the Worlds, I was thinking, "Y'know, I already sat through War of the Worlds once. I don't really need to watch it again." Director David Zucker, one of the minds behind Airplane!, has a knack for aping the costumes and sets of Saw and The Grudge and the tripods of War of the Worlds -- but so would any of us, given the budget. Zucker even reprises the boring Tim-Robbins-in-the-cellar scene from War of the Worlds (with Michael Madsen standing in for Robbins), though nothing at all comes of it aside from a garbled monologue from Madsen that proves he couldn't be funny if humor were water and he fell into a pool.

I chuckled a few times -- mainly at irrelevant dialogue ("I saw a face." "Did it have a nose?" "Yes." "Sounds like a face, then") that reminded me of the old "And don't call me Shirley" days. But it's clear enough that Scary Movie 4 wasn't made for me. Nor was it even really made for its target audience -- it was made for Miramax, to deliver it a big opening weekend. (It worked.) These things will continue to be made every couple of years as long as they make money and there are popular horror movies for them to parody -- putting this lifelong horror fan in the weird position of hoping that every horror movie in the next two years flops.

Doesn't seem likely, even though the genre is stuck in the most unimaginative rut it's seen since the slasher boom of the '80s; among the trailers I saw before the movie was one for the remake of "The Omen." That trailer, sad to say, was funnier to me than anything in "Scary Movie 4."

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