Snore and Snore Again
In teen movie terms, if Scream was The Breakfast Club, then Scream 4 is Down to You. It's not just that Scream openly acknowledged it was a slasher flick, but that it did so with love and respect, making the movie not only a great horror satire but a great horror film period. However, if sequels are good for anything, it involves diminishing the impact of the first offering, which brings us to Scream 4. Here we have something that seems to have watched the franchise from a distance, aping its characters and attitude but leaving out the soul. Save for a zinger here or a self-aware gag there, Scream 4 hasn't the guts or sharp wit that had preteen me going nuts for the original way back when.
In the years since the last loonies took up the Ghostface mantle in the name of a killing spree, Woodsboro has remained a pretty sleepy place. In fact, things are so chill, terminal survivor Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) has returned, bringing with her a book about a life spent facing down psychos. But some sick puppy has a funny way of welcoming her home, as a new crop of Ghostface killings emerges soon upon her arrival. However, this being a new decade and all, the rules that helped previous Scream alumni reach the ending credits may not work this time around. Red herrings run rampant, the virginal goody-goods can die, and -- most of all -- the veterans who've stuck it out from the beginning may not be so trustworthy anymore.
For the latest installment in a series that prides itself on being a horror game-changer, Scream 4 brings nothing fresh to the table. After an amusing prologue spoofing the glut of increasingly self-referential slasher sequels, it's really business as usual for the Woodsboro brigade. Sidney gets stalked, Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) is gunning for the big story, and although he's a sheriff now, Dewey Riley (David Arquette) still plays the lovable doofus. For the eleven years that have passed since its predecessor, there's no real sense of importance to Scream 4. It comes across as just "another Scream movie," a hollow parody whose moments of observance appear contrived and designed to mask the lack of much reason to resurrect the franchise in the first place.
If there's one key ingredient missing in Scream 4, it's affection. Director Wes Craven knew the horror game well enough in 1996 to utilize Kevin Williamson's original screenplay to its utmost cleverness. But maybe a few too many paycheck movies have softened the man up, for while Scream 4 was the perfect opportunity to show off what he does best, Craven's passion here seems running on empty. Scant instances of satire skew witty, and as far as straight horror, any and all scenes of peril ensure that your pulse remains at a steady pace. Strangely enough, what doesn't seem to suffer are the consistently decent performances. The old-timers here slip into their roles like pros, and a few of the newcomers, including Hayden Panettiere as a horror-savvy hottie, leave a good impression (though not enough to care that much when Ghostface cranks up the body count).
I don't hate Scream 4, nor is it a cinematic travesty, but it ends up as pretty weak sauce. When a movie like Insidious better honors its ancestors by earnestly approaching its most weathered cliches, a few half-hearted winks and nudges just aren't gonna cut it. Scream 4 passes the time painlessly and may give some die-hard fans a thrill or two, but its existence proves that the series has long since given up trying to rock the boat.
MY RATING: ** (out of ****)
(Released by Dimension Films and rated "R" for strong bloody violence, language and some teen drinking.)