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May 15, 2006 | Comments ()


Honestly, Who Gives a Shit?

Scary Movie 4 / Jeremy C. Fox

Film Reviews | May 15, 2006 | Comments ()


I wonder, what exactly would be the point of reviewing Scary Movie 4? Anyone who’s seen the trailer has essentially seen the movie and, even if you missed that, you need only to have watched any of the other three installments and to have heard which movies they take on this time (Saw, The Grudge, War of the Worlds, Brokeback Mountain, Million Dollar Baby, The Village, and a few others) and you know exactly what you’re going to get: reenactments of a few central scenes from those films loosely spliced together into a lumpy, incoherent plot and peppered with violent slapstick and jokes about erections, flatulence, and diarrhea. You don’t need me to tell you that Anna Faris is adorable but given little to do besides suffer various attacks and humiliations, or that Regina Hall is hilarious when she gets a half-decent line but is criminally underutilized.
I could mention that Craig Bierko and Charlie Sheen are charmless nonentities or that Leslie Nielsen is pulling the same tired schtick he’s been doing for 25 years, but would any of that be news? Would you be surprised to learn that Carmen Electra and Chris Elliot return to the franchise in new roles that are virtually indistinguishable from their previous ones or, for that matter, from any other part they’ve ever played (those being big-tittied bimbo and repulsive doofus, respectively), or that the movie features pointless cameos by rappers like Chingy and Fabolous? I thought not.

There was a time when making a spoof could be an honorable endeavor, when movies like Young Frankenstein and Airplane! took on entire genres and made audiences laugh at the inanity of stuff they’d previously bought into eagerly. Those movies had a point of view and a light, zippy comic style that kept your interest and your good will even when some of the jokes fell flat. But it seems that no filmmaker can keep up that kind of thing for long. Mel Brooks hasn’t directed a film in over a decade and, considering how he went out — with Life Stinks, then Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and finally Dracula: Dead and Loving It — who misses him? And of the trio behind Airplane! (and The Kentucky Fried Movie, Top Secret!, and The Naked Gun), Jerry Zucker first tried to go straight by making mediocre romances like Ghost and First Knight and now seems to have more or less retired, while his brother David and their old partner Jim Abrahams have reunited here for the first time since 1994’s Naked Gun 33 1/3, only to prove that they have no new material.

Part of the problem is that in 2006 it simply doesn’t make sense to spoof movies by making other movies. Filmmaking takes time — at least a year from screenplay to screen, and often a lot longer — and the modern Hollywood mindset is all about turnover. This weekend’s $30 million blockbuster is down to $12 million next weekend, supplanted by the latest big release, and within a month it’s playing the bargain theaters in half-deserted strip malls. We simply don’t remember — or care enough — to laugh at jokes about a movie like The Village, which came out damn near two years ago. We’ve already made the jokes ourselves, or we’ve seen the movie parodied online or on shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “MadTV.” That’s the real problem with making a film spoof in 2006: The skit-comedy TV shows and even more so the glut of movie websites and humor sites mean that we can see movies mocked while they’re still fresh in the theaters and in our minds. We’ve been assaulted with Brokeback parodies for the last five months — who the hell needs another one now? And Tom Cruise’s shenanigans on “Oprah?” Didn’t we all get that out of our systems last summer?

A spoof can still work if it’s clever — which Scary Movie 4 is not — and if it takes on more than a single half-forgotten film. By embracing an entire genre and contrasting it with an incongruous set of attitudes, Shaun of the Dead managed to be a solid horror-comedy, but that’s because it created its own world using selected genre elements rather than simply taking some zombies and making them flatulent. That kind of thing gets old pretty fast.

Thus we arrive at the critic’s problem in writing about a film like Scary Movie 4: When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. I could work myself into a tizzy about how lame the shit-and-piss jokes are (well, except for the bedpan/spongebath scene — it was pretty funny), but I’d wind up dealing in the same debased, exhausted material that the filmmakers do. I’d like to write a funny review about how terrible Scary Movie 4 is, but it’s not really terrible — just stupid and pointless — and everything it offers has already been mocked to death. Why jump on the bandwagon now?

Life is simply too short, folks. It’s a beautiful spring day out, there are still a few hours of daylight left, and I’m going to sit on the porch and read a book. I suggest you do the same.

Jeremy C. Fox is a founding critic of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society.You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.

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