At the end of my review for Scary Movie 3, I wrote, "Now I hear Scary Movie 4 is already in the planning stages. Should I get my hopes up again? Maybe. I know the filmmakers can do better than this!" So much for hope.
I was banking on the possibility that director David Zucker might feel more comfortable with the franchise. Scary Movie 3, which was his first time behind the camera of a Scary Movie, felt awkward in the way it started out with promising scenarios and then gave up on them in favor of really broad free-for-alls. I thought perhaps he and his team were just getting their feet wet with a franchise they didn't create themselves. I hoped the next movie might allow them to finish writing more clever gags from beginning to end.
If anything, Scary Movie 4 shows the humor regressing. There are largely only three fallbacks in this one -- sudden violent abuse, dopey sex-related comedy, and gross-out comedy. And they're delivered loudly, to the point where they drown out any of the genuinely good gags that might've found their way to the screen. And many of those are overplayed or amateurishly delivered. It gets tiring fast.
There are two major problems showing up here. First, the comedy as written seems to have no sense of boundaries -- they either abandon timing for volume, delivering jokes in a manner that borders on abusive, or they run past their sell-by date. In comedy, there was once the idea of pushing against boundaries, seeing how far you could go with a gag until it just stopped being funny. That idea was safe, because even if you held back a bit, at least the parts you let out earned the laughs they got. Now they seem to start by throwing everything out there right away, and the concern becomes reining things in. This creates a situation where the jokes get old easily, and too many of those are no fun at all.
The strategy in Scary Movie 4 is to hit and hit some more (or gross-out and gross-out some more). I recall listening to a commentary track on one of Zucker's older and much better movies (when he collaborated with his brother Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams) and hearing them explain how they used to test out gags by performing them on stage for live audiences before they actually incorporated them into their movies. My guess is he doesn't do anything like that anymore because none of the jokes in this movie feel like they have any sense of set-up or timing. They're just mostly elongated punchlines strung together.
The second problem is in the performances; frankly, good comic acting can go a very long way. These kinds of spoof movies go particularly well with deadpan acting, but the Scary Movies prefer mostly overreaction takes and, again, loudness in certain performances. It's symptomatic of the franchise that Scary Movie 4 doesn't believe in its comic characters -- Craig Bierko here substitutes for Charlie Sheen from the last movie, and their non-personalities are practically interchangeable. And, although Anna Faris can be counted on to be funny, the material she's given doesn't bring out anything that's inherently amusing about her dim-bulb character (she mainly becomes a cipher victim for numerous jokes).
Zucker and his team don't seem to be trying anymore. They're content to let their recreations of the scenes of other movies (last year's War of the Worlds gets xeroxed rather well here, I'd have to say) do most of the work, then let junior high humor do the rest. They should take a look at Stephen Chow, who is the current successful successor to their spoof legacy. Chow plays a comic personality and it anchors his movies, much the way, yes, Leslie Nielsen did back in the Naked Gun days. Even in spoof comedies, characters count.
So should I have any hope if Scary Movie 5 is in the works? Well, you know what they say about fooling me once, then fooling me twice. I feel ashamed enough as it is.
(Released by The Weinstein Company and rated "PG-13" for crude and sexual humor throughout, some comic violence and language.)