Scary Movie 4: The Horror Comedy That Makes Fun of Everything
Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post stated that while "Scary Movie 4 never takes you close to death by laughter [...] it's funny enough to turn the hands on your watch much more quickly than you can believe." Nathan Lee of The New York Times' described the film as being "organized on the principle of parody, not plot, [...] it's an exercise in lowbrow postmodernism, a movie-movie contraption more nuts than Charlie Kaufman's gnarliest fever dream. It's cleverly stupid."
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As for real scary movies, Dr. Phil says he loves them. "They say you have to have this suspension of disbelief, and I can totally get into a movie and have that," he says. "When I am in it, I totally immerse myself in that movie, and the goofier they are, the goofier I get; the scarier they are, the more chicken I am."
Scary Movie 4 is better than Scary Movie 3. Writing that sentence falls into the category of damning with faint praise, because the experience of sitting through the third installment of the comedy series was as pleasant as spreading organic fertilizer on the hottest day of the summer. The sense of desperation that pervaded Scary Movie 3 is gone, and there are enough laughs in Scary Movie 4 to keep most viewers distracted for a majority of its skinny 80-minute running time. But, to go with the good, there's plenty of bad, and it comes in the form of countless gags that misfire, far too much flatulence and urine, and (God help us) a buck naked Leslie Nielsen. Admittedly, that scene certainly puts the "scary" in Scary Movie 4.
Plot is irrelevant to this film, so it's not worth talking about what passes for one. Scary Movie 4 is a cobbled together parody of four generally accessible movies: Saw, War of the Worlds, The Grudge, and The Village. Along the way, there are digs at other movies like Fahrenheit 9/11 (although one could question whether this is a swipe at the film or at the President) and Brokeback Mountain. The way in which these storylines are interwoven makes no sense, but it doesn't have to. The production team features David Zucker and Jim Abrahams, two of the three members of ZAZ (Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker), the trio responsible for Airplane! and The Naked Gun, and their goal is to find a familiar looking backdrop for a clothesline of spoofs and jokes. This "saturation style" of comedy doesn't work as well as it has in the past because the ratio of failed jokes to successful ones is too high. It's not exactly work to sit through Scary Movie 4, but there are times when it comes close.
Although the entire movie is played for laughs (and teens are unlikely to take anything they see or hear seriously), this film is filled with sexual, scatological, and racial humor that is played out verbally and sometimes visually. Nudity is never explicit, but one scene, which takes place in the UN, ends with everyone having their clothes removed by a ray gun. Language includes many terms of religious deity, moderate and mild profanities, as well as three uses of a sexual expletive (once spoken, once nearly uttered, and once only mouthed). Violence is exaggerated with many hand-to-hand confrontations and other incidents such as space ships vaporizing humans, a character sawing off his own foot to escape from a leg iron, and another accidentally shooting an ultra light pilot. A scene in a bar includes social drinking of alcohol. Overall, this film pushes the limits of the PG-13 rating.
Several open-mouthed kisses between primary couple; movie opens with Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back" over jiggling microbes (scene ends with man on bench itching his crotch); Charlie Sheen wakes up with three porn stars, then overdoses on Viagra (causing gigantic erection); Brokeback Mountain spoof; photo shows woman lifting up shirt (nonexplicit); Cindy says she's "taken balls to the face" Cindy appears in shower (shoulders up); village feast table features two roasted pigs in fornicating position; two village members are gay; Carmen Electra wears a corset and fishnets; zap-ray turns evaporates clothes off UN members and U.S. president (he spends minutes not quite showing his butt and front, covered by obstacles; he says he thought his penis was a "zipper," and pulled it up and down); alien snakey-robot appears to fornicate with vacuum cleaner; one torture device has missile pointed at Tom's butt; one bit of torture involve "t---y"-twisting; wiping her lips, Brenda has apparently had oral sex with scary Saw puppet off-screen; Mahalik and CJ show bare butts as they wear chaps; president in bed with a duck.
Yet Weisz, here, has a deeper problem than the film's lack of bite and laughs. He wants the movie to be a commentary on current American culture, yet doesn't do anything to suggest that American Dreamz is taking place in any kind of real world. The plotting is so senseless as to be incoherent. As part of a PR blitz, the president is recruited to be a celebrity judge on the film's Idol doppelganger, yet the logistics of this aren't explored in the slightest - wouldn't this decision create some kind of media blitz? Nothing makes sense in this film. How does Chris Klein morph from gee-whiz military recruit to savvy, show-biz smoothie? Did this happen off screen? Why does Sam Golarzi's suicide bomber, Omer, initially decide to go through with his mission when he's clearly had a change of heart?
The plot of Disney's computer-animated The Wild is completely derivative - it's Madagascar meets Finding Nemo, with a dash of The Lion King - and it's nowhere near as amusing as it should be; the movie, beautifully designed though it is, is like a sincere Madagascar, and what's the point of that? Yet The Wild does feature some clever gags involving the food chain and attraction between animals of different species - if you ever wanted to watch a squirrel romance a giraffe, this is your movie - and, best of all, it has Eddie Izzard.
There are many things wrong with Scary Movie 4, but it gets so many things right that it feels silly to complain about this hit-or-miss farce; when the movie hits, it hits big. (SM4 is easily the best installment in its franchise thus far.) Anna Faris, who may be incapable of giving a less-than-delightful performance, and Craig Bierko, doing a savage Tom Cruise parody, are spectacular throughout, but Scary Movie 4 scores because its objects of ridicule are, more often than not, movies completely deserving of ridicule. M. Night Shymalan's intentionally stoic, unintentionally laughable dialogue in The Village is mocked without mercy, and the logistics of War of the Worlds' plotting - which constitutes the majority of the spoof - are given the harshest attention; running from the aliens' lasers, with their talent for incinerating humans but not their clothing, a woman says to a fleeing gal next to her, "I like your outfit!", pushes her under a laser beam, and absconds with the lady's apparel. (The movie also pays homage to War of the Worlds' worst scene - weepy Cruise singing "Little Deuce Coupe" to Dakota Fanning - by having Bierko sing his child to sleep with a hysterically inappropriate rap song.) And it's not just deserving movies that are satirized in Scary Movie 4 - when the president is first informed of the aliens' attack, the commander-in-chief is annoyed, as he's enjoying his visit to a kindergarten class, and wants to see how the story about the pet goat ends. Who would have thought Scary Movie 4 would be more insightful - and far funnier - than American Dreamz?
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"What makes it different from any other franchise is that it's always fresh," said director David Zucker, returning for his second "Scary" flick. "We're only as good as the movies we spoof, and it keeps getting replenished with new stupid movies that Hollywood puts out."
Nobody expects the series to make sense anymore, and as the latest installment occupies itself with everything from alien iPods to rump-shaking sperm cells, it doesn't disappoint. Much like rap music or reality TV, high-browed critics have begrudgingly accepted the supposed fad, with the spoof-movie genre now in its third decade of existence.
"I thought that 30 years later, I'd be comfortably out of the business and having fun in Maui or something, but there's the gambling debts and the house to think of," said Zucker, who co-created the genre with 1980's "Airplane!" "Our next movie will be 'Scary Movie 5: Maui.' "
To make a successful spoof film, Zucker said, it isn't enough to simply pick a hit movie and make fun of it. The reason the director has brought back so many "Scary" regulars, and even resurrected actors like Electra and Chris Elliott to play different characters, is simple: They have no shame.
"I'm playing Holly the blind girl and I have a cane, and there's a scene where I hit Bill Pullman, who plays my father in the movie, between the legs," the actress said. "And because I'm blind, I couldn't really look down at his crotch while I was doing it, so my aim was a little off. I think there were a few times when I may have gone off to the left and ... it was hurting [him]. He was wearing a cup, but I hurt him pretty bad."
The series was originally directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans, and was written in large part by his brothers Shawn (playing Ray, pictured top right) and Marlon (playing Shorty, pictured bottom left). The first movie was mainly a parody of the first Scream (by extent missing the point that Scream was itself a parody of horror movies), although it also heavily spoofed I Know What You Did Last Summer and took jabs at various other films, and not necessarily just from the horror genre. Despite the promises of no sequels, a second movie was released under the tagline "We Lied", which mainly spoofed the 1999 remakes of The Haunting and House on Haunted Hill.