by Mel Valentin
Directed by David Zucker (the "Airplane," "Naked Gun" series) with the usual by-the-numbers, short-on-imagination approach to spoofs or parodies, "Scary Movie 4" is, you guessed it, the latest in the inexplicably popular "Scary Movie" franchise, which got its start back in 2000 with an extended parody of the meta-slasher "Scream" franchise. A quick, made-purely-for-profit sequel followed just a year later. It still did well, box-office wise, but underperformed relative to expectations. Out went the Wayans brothers (Damon, Shawn, and Marion) and in came David Zucker and an all-new writing team. The what can we parody question was answered by expanding the possibilities outside the horror universe. Anything, as long as it was popular, was fair game, so audiences got a meandering spoof of "8 Mile" in addition to spoofs of "The Ring," "Signs," and, to a lesser extent, "The Matrix" series.That was then (2003), this is now (2006). Scary Movie 4 leans heavily on spoofs of War of the Worlds, The Village, Saw I and II, with a detour into Million Dollar Baby and Brokeback Mountain subplots. Thatís fine, as far that goes, but spoofs have to do two things, bring up memories of key scenes from the films being spoofed and adding a comedic twist, either by subverting expectations of how a scene will play out, throwing some physical humor into the mix, or both. Scary Movie 4 works, but only for about the first 20-30 minutes. Past that point, the desperately unfunny jokes pile up, so reading any further isnít exactly necessary (it is mandatory, though).
"Twenty-thirty minutes in and 'Scary Movie 4' is DOA."
After a painfully overextended Saw parody featuring non-actors Dr. Phil McGraw and Shaquille O'Neal, Scary Movie 4 re-introduces the blonder-than-blonde Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris). She's still the loveable, if dim, character she's always been, walking into, and sometimes causing, one disastrous situation after another. Dropping her love interest from Scary Movie 3, George (Simon Rex), in a less-funny-as-the-skit wears on parody of Million Dollar Baby, along with George's older brother, Tom Logan (Charlie Sheen), via a Viagra-induced accident (actually one of the few laughter-inducing bits in the entire film), Cindy has decided to enter the home care profession, if for no other reason than the need to get Cindy into another horror-related situation.
This time out, Cindy takes a job as the nurse for a near-catatonic woman (Cloris Leachman, in an extended cameo). Cue scatological humor related to old people and their lack of control over their body functions. Cindy has another, more worrisome problem, the out-of-place ghosts (out of place for New Jersey, that is) that haunt her patient's home. Cue spoofs of the ghosts from The Grudge, the white-as-a-sheet, caterwauling Japanese boy and an older male ghost/contortionist who prefers to roll down stairs over walking or simply floating in mid-air. Cindy soon discovers that the boy-ghost can be only laid to rest through the intervention of his missing father, Henry Hale (Bill Pullman, spoofing the emotionally constipated character he played in The Grudge).
Right next door, Tom Ryan (Craig Bierko), a New Jersey longshoreman, struggles with his recalcitrant children, a hostile ex-wife (Molly Shannon), and, get this, an alien invasion. Before long, his friends and neighbors are getting zapped out of their clothes by alien tripods, Tom and his children are on the run, and, wait, let's back up a second. Tom meets Cindy while she's in her patient's backyard and Tom is playing catch with his rebellious teenage son. Tom and Cindy connect, more or less, but before they can consummate their relationship, Tom is gathering his children, hoping to get out before the aliens flatten his neighborhood and Cindy is having a conversation with the less-than-threatening boy-ghost about how to free him from the curse and save the world from the alien invasion.
Scary Movie 4 splits up and splits off Tom and Cindy into two separate storylines. Tom's misadventures closely parody War of the Worlds, with Tom and his family turned into refugees. Tom and his son are eventually separated, Tom takes up the invitation of an unhinged madman (insert celebrity cameo here). Meanwhile, Cindy runs into her old, once dead, friend, Brenda (Regina Hall), an Iíll-hump-anything-male, take-no-crap African-American woman. They slip into an entirely different world that parodies The Village, complete with not one, but two village idiots (one of them played by the over-employed Chris Elliot). Eventually, the two storylines merge again, back where we began, in Saw territory.
In another subplot (with a nod to Independence Day and/or Mars Attacks), the blundering president of the United States, Baxter Harris (Leslie Nielsen, reprising his Scary Movie 3 role), steps into a situation he doesnít understand or can control. And wait, didnít I mention the Brokeback Mountain spoof? Itís there, just as an add-on diversion, a flashback sequence involving two characters back from the last sequel, master theoreticians/dialecticians, Mahalik (Anthony Anderson) and C.J. (Kevin Hart). What about the Oprah Winfrey (Debra Wilson) clone youíve seen in the TV ads? Good question. Sheís there, in a throwaway gag that takes aim at Tom Cruise's much-discussed meltdown on Oprah Winfrey's chat show last year. Itís actually one of the best gags in Scary Movie 4, mostly because it goes over-the-top and back again.Whatís left to discuss? Not much, actually. If you liked "Scary Movie 1,2, or 3," you might, you just might like "Scary Movie 4." Itís probably the weakest of the series, though, relying on tired, overused jokes, missing punchlines, and when everything else fails, a semi-famous starlet with intestinal trouble (this scene played far, far better in the criminally underseen, underappreciated "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle." Actually, if youíre in the mood for lowbrow humor (with a mix of great sight gags and pointed social commentary), give "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" a rental (or see it again, if only for the brilliant turning-a-bag-of-ganja-into-a-life-partner joke).
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originally posted: 04/14/06 17:26:29