Scary Movie 4 is a lot like Scary Movies 1, 2, and 3; there are plenty of parodies of then-current movies, hit-or-miss jokes, and strange cameos. But ultimately, the movie’s just not all that funny. It’s good for a chuckle here or there, but it falls well short of the first Scary Movie. And that’s saying something, because the first two SMs were done by the Wayanses, whereas the second two were done by David Zucker of Airplane! fame. How could someone with Zucker’s comedy pedigree turn in such a slapdash movie?
The basic plot is that Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris), who’s been in all of the SMs, has just been hired as a caregiver for an elderly Japanese lady, riffing on Sarah Michelle Gellar’s The Grudge. Meanwhile, Tom Ryan (Craig Bierko) is a ne’er-do-well crane operator who lives next door and sometimes has custody of his two kids, riffing on Tom Cruise’s War of the Worlds. Then alien tripods invade from under the Earth (only they’re called TriPods) and kill humans discriminately. But lo! There’s a ghost of a boy in the house where Campbell’s staying, and he tells her (by spouting Japanese brand names like Seiko and Benihana) that she must find his father, who knows how to defeat the alien menace. And it turns out the father, played by Bill Pullman, lives in a quaint village straight out of precolonial days, complete with a blind woman, two profound idiots, and mysterious They Who Shall Not Be Named creatures, riffing on The Village.
Perhaps the best sequence is the first scene, in which Shaquille O’Neal and Dr. Phil (the real guys, not actors) wake up in an old public restroom, a la Saw. It’s a well-played scene; both personalities come across as sincere, not stiff, and more than a little deprecating (Phil’s helpfulness, Shaq’s free-throw-shooting ability). The setting is revisted later on in the movie, too, to good effect.
There’s even a minispoof of Million Dollar Baby, with Campbell flashing back to her days as a boxer and what happened during her final fight. The scene’s actually pretty well done, a good aping of the one in the original, taken to the logical extreme. And another one, of Brokeback Mountain, except with African-American cowboys (Anthony Anderson and Kevin Hart), recreating the famed tent scene from that movie.
Some positives: Faris is reliably good, and Regina King, as her slutty BFF, is a perfect complement. Pullman turns in his standard good-guy performance, albeit with some profanity (at least in the unrated version). Bierko looks enough like Cruise in WotW to pass as his double; the actor does have a good sense of comic timing. One of the running gags has Tom unknowingly neglecting his young daughter Rachel.
Adding his awesome pipes to the charade is James Earl Jones, as Morgan Freeman did in War of the Worlds. Unfortunately, he’s not heard often enough. And we get too much of Leslie Nielsen, who plays President Harris. Nielsen’s slapstick skills remain fine, but the script wasn’t kind to him; rather than being funny, President Harris made you anxious for a different scene. Besides, making fun of My Pet Goat is so 2001.
All in all, the movie’s kind of disappointing. Unless, of course, your bar is already low. I mean, it’s the fourth movie in the series – will it never end – and by now the jokes have to feel a little stale. Pungent, even. The one-liners often fall flat, despite a game cast; you’ll be ducking to avoid the scattershot hilarity. Sometimes this approach to comedy works – throw as many jokes as you can against a reel of film and see what oozes the farthest – but here it just seems like a wasted effort. I think the genre-parody genre peaked a while ago.
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