More disposable than a five-day-old Good News razor, David Zucker’s Scary Movie 4 is strictly a movie for the moment. As with Zucker’s first outing in the series, it’s entirely reliant on the topical — and on the supposition that the viewer has seen (in this case) Saw, The Grudge, Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, The Village, Million Dollar Baby and Brokeback Mountain.
There’s nothing wrong with the contrivance in itself — and, for my money, all but one of those targets fully deserves skewering — but in a couple years Scary Movie 4 will be about as relevant as an episode of That Was the Week That Was or a 1962 Bob Hope Oscar monologue. It’s strictly for the here and now. For that matter, Zucker and co-writers Craig Mazin and Jim Abrahams may well have tackled material that’s a little past its prime with The Village and Million Dollar Baby. After all, they’re so … last year.
Beyond that, there’s the question of what non-American audiences will make of guest spots by Dr. Phil and Shaquille O’Neal. The Saw parody they’re in is OK by itself, but the real point is O’Neal being unable to hit a basketball hoop and Dr. Phil kvetching about being tired of listening to people whine about their problems and say, “motherf***er,” when he makes a catastrophic blunder. Will any of that really register outside the U.S.?
However, for what it is, it’s a good deal of irreverent, silly and even sophomoric fun. And when you put it up against the recent Date Movie, it verges on genius — well, sort of.
One thing that sets Scary Movie 4 (and to a lesser extent, Scary Movie 3) apart from other attempts at parodies is the film’s ability to weave its targets into something at least approaching a coherent — but utterly preposterous — story. Some of it verges on the surreal — such as locating the very Japanese Grudge house right next door to Tom Ryan’s (Craig Bierko, Cinderella Man) New Jersey row house from War of the Worlds. But it’s this loopy quality that also gives the film its distinct personality.
Unlike Date Movie, which is predicated on hopping from one movie to the next, this creates an entire storyline out of a variety of storylines. Also unlike Date Movie, Scary Movie 4 doesn’t just cite its sources, it actually builds on them (look at the addition of simian value to the spoof of the dock-working scene from War of the Worlds) and pokes holes in their weaknesses (the bad filmmaking that marked the neck-breaking business from Million Dollar Baby taken to an extreme — and worked into the plot).
The film also targets current events of other types. Tom Cruise’s certifiable antics on Oprah come under attack, and while this is a good target, it’s one of the film’s miscalculations, because you’ve seen the essence of it for months in the trailer, making a lame final gag for the film. George W. Bush “gets it,” too, in a scene where the President (Leslie Nielsen) puts off dealing with a Martian invasion because he wants to hear the ending of a story about a pet duck that’s being read out loud in an elementary school classroom. (Side note to the reviewer who called this a parody of “the famed Bush scene from Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11” — the Bush footage wasn’t a scene from a movie!) This, too, was in the trailer, but the movie turns it into a funny running gag that you haven’t seen.
As is invariably the case with a film of this nature, some of the gags work, some don’t. A few are not only lame (Cloris Leachman’s sponge bath), but rather distasteful. One tasteless scene — the obligatory bathroom humor has to crop up, of course — actually scores some points because of it being enacted by Carmen Electra, whose major claim to fame is her sex appeal. (Alright, yes, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle did something very like this involving “hot chicks,” but it still gets a few points for de-deifying a sex “goddess.”)
A great movie? Not in this universe, no, but it’s fast-moving, entertaining and sometimes hysterically funny. That’s really all it aims for. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor throughout, some comic violence and language.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke