At this point, it's a fact of nature: As long as people keep going to see horror flicks, there will be a Scary Movie franchise. Cockroaches may survive the apocalypse, but Carmen Electra will be right there with them, serving up poorly staged pratfalls and three-minute-long poop jokes. As long as there are D-list actors in need of a paycheck in other words, while Leslie Nielsen is still alive studios will keep green-lighting these lowest-common-denominator, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink spoofs.
So it's best to just own up to the reality of the situation and try to enjoy yourself if confronted with Scary Movie 4, whether in a drunken or stoned stupor when it shows up on cable, or if you're unfortunate enough to be dragged to it in the theaters by your 12-year-old nephew (who will no doubt laugh his ass off for 90 minutes straight). It's not inspired, but it also doesn't have the same stench of desperation that wafted through Date Movie. That would-be "comedy" was so lame, so tone-deaf and so inept that anything seems better by comparison.
This time, the inheritors of the series Airplane! creators David Zucker and Jim Abrahams have decided to keep things simple, sticking mostly to just four bloated, absurd Hollywood shock flicks: War of the Worlds, The Grudge, Saw and The Village. Of course, that doesn't stop them from doing hit-or-miss parodies of Oscar bait like Brokeback Mountain, Million Dollar Baby and Fahrenheit 9/11. Or maybe it's the president himself that they're parodying, as when Nielsen's character says "remind me to sign that abortion bill" during a full-blown alien invasion.
Probably not. Nothing as intellectually advanced as satire seeps into Scary 4. Even the tacked-on spoof of Tom Cruise's Oprah appearance doesn't have any bite. It's just a case of filmmakers searching for the right buttons to push, and pushing them relentlessly until the audience cracks up. Whether you love or loathe these movies, something is going to get to you: The sight of Cloris Leachman taking a sponge bath in pee; the disco ball used in the Brokeback parody; or maybe Anna Faris suggestively wielding a speculum in slow-motion as the Tom Cruise clone, played by Craig Bierko, falls in love with her.
It's the performances that keep you watching, as you wait anxiously for the next mild chuckle. None of the actors are used to his or her fullest advantage, but Faris has developed into one hell of a comedian since she did the very first Scary Movie. Her timing is spot-on, and her dazed, deer-in-the-headlights deadpan delivery smooths out some of the more groan-worthy gags. Bierko, with his elastic facial expressions and dopey grin, is her perfect complement. Together, they're like a living, breathing version of a Mad magazine cartoon, which is about the best thing you could possibly say about a movie that features Charlie Sheen being impaled on his own erection.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.