Director: David Zucker
Screenwriters: Craig Mazin, Jim Abrahams
Starring: Anna Faris, Craig Bierko, Regina Hall, Joanna Krupa, Leslie Neilsen
Running time: 83 mins
When extraterrestrial Tr-iPods invade Earth, Tom Ryan (Bierko) drives off with his estranged children leaving behind Scary Movie regular Cindy Campbell (Faris), his neighbour who has taken a job as minder of a catatonic woman in a Japanese house a la The Grudge. Meanwhile, with the help of regular Brenda (Hall) she sets about trying to find the solution to the problem of the tripods, the key lying with a ghostly Japanese boy who speaks entirely in brand names, combined with Bill Pullman in a warped version of Shyamalan’s The Village.
To a greater extent than most of the films in the franchise, Scary Movie 4 actually has a discernible plot, especially melding together threads based on The Village, The Grudge and War of the Worlds. This coherence is refreshing, although the disadvantage it brings is that much of the enjoyment of the film is on the effectiveness of the parodies, making it much harder to appreciate if you haven’t seen the films they’re spoofing.
What’s still refreshing in comparison to the franchise’s first two instalments (the second never hauling itself out of the toilet to find its "humour") is that the touch of Airplane! and Naked Gun director David Zucker and his team has introduced a new breadth to the gags. The toilet humour and slapstick are still there in force (Carmen Electra’s blind character relieves herself in a wooden chest during a Village meeting, whilst Cindy bathes her charge in urine) but along with it comes the brand of lines found in Zucker’s previous work which come thick and fast, often missing but usually hitting. This probably won’t be enough to win the series any new fans but it at least brings a welcome new dimension.
Zucker favourite Leslie Neilsen makes a welcome appearance as the US president (a enjoyably thinly-veiled George W.) and previous Jim Abrahams collaborator Sheen makes a brief appearance. Meanwhile, regulars Anna Faris and Regina Hall are as charming as usual even if they do deserve better.
Fun as Scary Movie 4 may be for contemporary audiences, the fact that the humour is so reliant upon familiarity with the target films doesn’t bode well for its shelf-life. The writers still work on the principle that enjoyment is to be found in simply recognising the scenes being parodies often without much of a new spin on them at all. As the original scenes fade from the memories of viewers the film will lose much of its appeal, with cameos from Shaquille O’Neal and US TV’s Dr. Phil (largely going over UK audiences’ heads) and a take-off of Tom Cruise’s sickly declaration of love for Katie Holmes on Oprah doing little to ensure longevity.
Scary Movie 4 is hardly a masterpiece which will stand the test of time, but is quite effective disposable fun which is well worth a watch for fans of the franchise who have a working knowledge of the films it takes a shot at.