By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 14, 2006
Please don't tell anyone, but I kind of liked "Scary Movie 4." You're not supposed to like sequels, unless they are "Godfather" sequels, and then you can like only one. But to like a No. 4? Good Lord, is the man insane, or courageous beyond description?
Since I have described myself as "courageous beyond description" many times, it surely must be the latter.
And the movie may be a No. 4 in official sequence, but it's actually a No. 2 in pedigree. That is because the first two films of the franchise were Wayans productions, the genius-family -- Keenen Ivory, Shawn and Marlon -- that created "In Living Color" and unleashed Jennifer Lopez on the world. But by No. 3, the Wayans DNA had vanished and the direction moved to Jerry Zucker, co-co-creator of such laugh-dense nutfests as "Airplane!" and "Naked Guns 1, 2 1/2 and 3."
So "Scary Movie 4" is a Zucker thing, with nary a Wayans in sight. The Zucker formula is somewhat more free-form than the Wayans way. The Wayans films sent up and closely followed the teen slasher formula: a gaggle of comely adolescents in a deserted location being hunted down and extinguished, one by one, by a madman. The fast die first, the kids always split up, the car won't start, and finally, only the virgin remains.
Zucker and his writer, Craig Mazin (Jim Abrahams, a longtime Zucker collaborator, pitched in), go nuttier; they don't limit themselves to one genre but basically rumble and bumble all over the place, primarily targeting four films but dipping into this or that when it amuses them. Or it doesn't even have to be movies: One plot strand plays with the image of a slightly challenged American president dealing with a national security crisis while listening to a children's book about a duck being read to second-graders. His aides have trouble pulling him away: "I want to see how it ends," he says.
The main targets are Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds," Takashi Shimizu's "The Grudge," Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain," James Wan's "Saw" and M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village." (The film's lowest moment is a pointless, humorless sendup of "Million Dollar Baby.")
Combining such disparate story lines, of course, leads to much unavoidable stupidity. What is the suburban Tokyo haunted house of "The Grudge" doing next to the Bayonne, N.J., dockworker's house of "War of the Worlds," and why, when people are sucked into the invading alien pod machines of "War," do they find themselves in the scummy bathroom of "Saw"? On the other hand, if anyone strenuously objects to these on logical grounds, maybe that person needs a drink, a life and a nap.
The film opens with what may be its best gag, or maybe it's just that I enjoyed watching Dr. Phil saw his own leg off a little too much. Dr. Phil and Shaquille O'Neal (together at last!) find themselves chained together in that scuzzy men's room. In order to free themselves, Shaq has to hit a free throw! Now when I write it, it just lies there on the page like a description of sodium turning to black goo when heated in a Bunsen burner flame, but it's very funny on-screen.
That's from "Saw." Soon we're switching back and forth between a parody of "The Grudge," in which longtime "Scary Movie" vet Anna Faris is trying to take care of Cloris Leachman while a little boy in mascara keeps popping out of the woodwork, and a parody of "War of the Worlds" set next door, in dockworker Craig Bierko's house, where alien pod-machines are destroying New Jersey. I can't really remember how "The Village" came into it, but soon enough Faris and another "Scary" vet, Regina Hall, have wandered into a 19th-century village that must be just off the New Jersey Turnpike, where Bill Pullman is doing quite an amusing turn in the William Hurt role and Chris Elliott is drooling away as Adrien Brody.
"Scary Movie 4" never takes you close to death by laughter, as the "Naked Gun" films did, that zone of oxygen deprivation where your life flashes before your eyes and turns out to be so boring you almost pass out. But it's funny enough to turn the hands on your watch much more quickly than you can believe.
Scary Movie 4 (83 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for gross humor, sexual innuendo and comic violence.