Scary Movie 4

The first two Scary Movies were sort of akin to cinematic versions of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” — mad, headlong dashes through the horror and suspense genres, name-checking as many films as possible in all manner of dizzying, gross-out send-ups. With director David Zucker on board, though, the last two films in the series have broadened their comedic horizons, spoofing science-fiction and now even the media and politics. But for those wondering, however, yes, there are still plenty of flatulence jokes.

Anna Faris returns as the ever-naïve Cindy Campbell, her breathy, brow-raised obliviousness the anchoring ballast of the Scary Movie series. The story this time around finds Cindy seeking a career in home healthcare, and teaming up with divorced dad “himbo” Tom Ryan (Craig Bierko) when the world is attacked by giant alien iPods that spring forth from the ground as part of a madman’s plot to destroy humankind. A quick roll call of the movie’s main spoof ingredients consists of War of the Worlds, The Grudge, The Village, Saw and Million Dollar Baby, with Brokeback Mountain running a distant sixth.

Shaquille O’Neal and daytime gabber Dr. Phil open the movie in a Saw spoof, and Charlie Sheen, Anthony Anderson, Simon Rex and Leslie Nielsen reprise their roles from the third movie in the series, the latter as clueless President Baxter Harris. Back too is Regina Hall as Cindy’s intrepid and horny best friend, Brenda, while series vets Chris Elliott and Carmen Electra turn up in different capacities. Other featured players include Cloris Leachman, Bill Pullman, Michael Madsen, Molly Shannon, Debra Wilson and a litany of rappers who pop up to sow the franchise’s mushrooming urban appeal.

There is, of course, absolutely no natural narrative rhythm to Scary Movie 4, and the mondo physical gags (the serial abuse of Tom Ryan’s Dakota Fanning-esque daughter, the gross-out prerequisites) frequently wear on for too long, in effect apologizing for the movie’s PG-13 rating by goosing audiences past the point of complete numbness with potty humor. This, to me, makes it much more suited for a casual and possibly piecemeal at-home viewing, but others might raucously disagree.

The movie’s production team deserves special mention, though, in that their keen eye toward faithful recreation helps go a long way toward sustaining the… well, if not “conceit” of the movie, then at least its downhill momentum. In addition to some comparatively sly visual gags (Tom Ryan splitting Dura-logs, and complaining about the monotony of his job as crane operator while playing a lift-and-drop slot game), there are also a few cleverly subversive bits that would have never found a home in the first Scary Movie, including a send-up of President Bush’s distracted reaction when first hearing about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Billed as “the fourth and final chapter of the trilogy,” Scary Movie 4 is every bit as naturally disposable as one might expect, but that’s hardly a damning criticism in a country that, if not predicated on convenience and whim, is now certainly deeply in its thrall. As an irreverent repackaging of just-of-the-moment pop culture, Scary Movie 4 evidences no signs of franchise slowdown. Quite to the contrary, it’s doing just fine. Belch! (Dimension/Weinstein Company, PG-13, 80 mins.)


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