In our current sequel-centric, brand-name-repurposing movie climate, Scary Movie 4 represents a triumph of commerce, but—let's face it—a bankruptcy of art. It's all upside for Dimension Films, a subsidiary of Disney. Shot quickly and deceptively cheaply by industry stalwarts led by director David Zucker, Scary Movie 4 pokes gentle fun at a bunch of game cameo players and hit movies (mostly of the horror and science-fiction genres) that audiences can smugly recognize. Only one this time—The Village—is a Disney movie getting extensive free publicity, but lest we forget, Scary Movie 3 unexpectedly scored a record-breaking opening weekend three years ago.
So what have we here? Anna Faris, doing her fetching Judy Holliday-on-Valium routine, and ever-welcome Regina Hall each return for a fourth go-round as the Dumb Blonde and the Happy Ho, respectively. Faris' Cindy runs into Hall's Brenda on the way from The Grudge to The Village, by way of War of the Worlds. Scary Movie newcomer Craig Bierko inhabits the elaborate War of the Worlds parody, license for a coda spoofing Tom Cruise's effusive romantic announcement on Oprah. A Saw spoof bookends the picture, which also features unfunny flashback takes on Million Dollar Baby and Brokeback Mountain.
At first, the familiar, sure hand of David Zucker seems enough for a lark, even though he's set the bar lower with each passing year (after My Boss' Daughter, inheriting the Scary Movies from the Wayans clan was a fait accompli). The once tasty ingenuity of Zucker—and Jim Abrahams, who joins Zucker and Craig Mazin for screenplay credit—displays many of the same ingredients (knockabout slapstick, a high scatology quotient, wanton racial stereotyping), but the dish has turned. For about a half hour, we stick with Zucker, but the head-slamming and lame double entendres ("That's okay—I've taken balls in the face before") wear out their welcome with a good forty-five minutes to go.
Oh, I've got no particular beef with the sporadically amusing Scary Movie 4, and its large and comfortingly familiar cast (aww, Leslie Nielsen's back as the dim-witted President, ripe for a bit of Bush-bashing). I just don't see much entertainment value—or, certainly, a shelf life—in a contrived string of mildly amusing parodies of bad movies. Here today, yawn tomorrow.