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Scary Movie 4′ lacks humor, originality

Brian Doxtader and Erin McGinn | Wednesday, April 19, 2006

“Scary Movie 4,” billed as the “fourth and final film in the trilogy” is one sequel too many. Directed by David Zucker (“Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun”), the movie seems have potential, but the material is too thin and the humor too broad and tasteless for it to emerge as a parody classic like its original predecessor.

Tom Cruise himself borders so close to parody that he sees too easy a target, though Craig Bierko’s measured performance adeptly swings between the over-serious, ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ Cruise of movies and the insane, love-sick Scientologist Cruise of real life.

Anna Faris remains the anchor of the series, playing up the “dumb blonde” stereotype so prevalent in horror films (here spoofing Sarah Michelle Gellar in “The Grudge”), though it seems less appropriate as the film starts to get away from pure horror.

The chief inspiration for “Scary Movie 4” is a pair of hit films, “War of Worlds” and “The Grudge,” but is also draws from the likes of “The Village” and “Saw.” Non-horror films like “Brokeback Mountain” and “Million Dollar Baby” make cameo appearances, which demonstrates just how different the “Scary Movie” series has become since its original incarnation.

Parody is edgy, scandalous and revealing at its best. The problem with “Scary Movie 4” is that the material it parodies is in of itself laughable. In other cases, it aims for broad, un-clever retreads – a scene that mimics “Brokeback Mountain” is so tiredly unoriginal that it is almost an insult to the audience.

Elsewhere, a pre-credits sequence involving Shaq and Dr. Phil, though one of the film’s funnier moments, is essentially a throwaway.

An important question that “Scary Movie 4” raises is this: is scatological humor funny anymore? Was it ever? Why do filmmakers feel the need for poo and fart jokes over thirty years after “Blazing Saddles?” A scene in which a blind Carmen Electra mistakes a courthouse for a bathroom is not only gross, but also lasts way too long.

Like SNL skits that run out of steam before they stumble to their conclusions, “Scary Movie 4” is so bizarrely paced (funny sequences seem too short, unfunny sequences last too long) that it at times feels longer than its brief 83 minutes.

The franchise has strayed so far from its original premise that it is grasping for ideas. While the broad social humor works, it seems inappropriate in a film entitled “Scary Movie 4.” The first “Scary Movie” worked because it drew on the entire horror genre (though mostly the slasher sub-genre). By now, “Scary Movie” has more installments than “Scream” and nearly as many as “Halloween.” This is a problem.

In a strangely paradoxical way, “Scary Movie 4” is at its best and worst when it adheres to real life rather than horror films. Terrorists, Bush’s reaction to 9/11 and the United Nations all get parodied with mixed results.

Leslie Nielson serves absolutely no purpose, and his scenes could have easily been cut, though the filmmakers probably needed him to stretch the material into feature length.

Which leads to the most important question: if the filmmakers are so desperate for material, does “Scary Movie 4” deserve to be a feature-length? Though sporadically funny, the film never really gets going. Like the other “Scary Movie” films, the fourth installment is episodic, with little emphasis on plot.

“Scary Movie 4” is not a bad film per se, but parody tends to succeed based on the strength of the original material. This is what made the first “Scary Movie” so effectively funny.

While it’s admirable that the filmmakers realized these limitations and tried to branch out, audiences will wish they hadn’t gone for the obvious targets. Still, they made the easy but oddly appropriate choice by going with Tom Cruise’s meltdown – after all, his appearance on Oprah was undoubtedly the scariest thing to come along in the past half decade.