Scary Movie (United States, 2000)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

It seems that every new comedy to arrive in theaters pushes the envelope further, daring the MPAA to give it an NC-17. Scary Movie, from the demented and very funny minds of the Wayans Brothers, becomes the latest motion picture to risk censure in the name of laughter - and gets away with it. Featuring scenes that make American Pie, There's Something About Mary, and Me, Myself and Irene seem almost tame, Scary Movie combines the raunchiness of '90s teen comedies with the single-movie spoof approach of Mel Brooks and the rapid-fire barrage of gags and jokes used in Airplane and The Naked Gun. With body fluids flowing almost as fast as the stream of often profane and off-color zingers, Scary Movie proves to be the kind of film that will shock the faint-of-heart and leave just about everyone else laughing until tears run down their cheeks.

Offended by gay and anti-gay humor? Avoid Scary Movie. Shocked by the sight of an erect (albeit prosthetic) penis? Avoid Scary Movie. Horrified by the thought of seeing grandma take a header down the stairs then get run over by a piano? Avoid Scary Movie. Put off by the concept of a character so stoned that when he gets shot in the lung, smoke puffs out of the hole? Avoid Scary Movie. Embarrassed to laugh at some admittedly juvenile humor? Avoid Scary Movie. But if all those things are your cup of tea, you might think this is the best film of the summer. It's certainly the funniest one I've seen year-to-date.

Only about 30-40% of the jokes in Scary Movie work. There are a lot of clunkers, and some that are simply too dumb to generate a response. However, considering the sheer quantity of material that is thrown at us, even a failure rate of more than 50% represents a lot of laughs. The Wayans Brothers use the same saturation comedy approach that worked so well in the '80s classics produced by the team of Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker. And, while the Airplane style has resulted in a number of stale duds, this is not one of them.

The central target of the Wayans' wit is Scream. It's certainly not the only movie to be skewered by Scary Movie, but it's the most obvious. Borrowing the overall plot on an almost scene-by-scene basis, director Keenen Ivory Wayans sharpens his knives and starts cutting away at characters and situations. He then throws in sliced-and-diced pieces from I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream 2, Election, The Blair Witch Project, Titanic/Amistad, The Sixth Sense, The Matrix, The Usual Suspects, and probably a few others. (Note: the list of films parodies are strictly '90s vintage. None of the older entries, like Halloween or Friday the 13th, are approached with any vigor.) Even the "Wazzup" TV commercials get a moment's exposure, and there's a none-too-subtle reference to "Laverne & Shirley". As one might reasonably expect, some of these lampoons work better than others, but, when one fails, there's another just around the corner.

The film opens with bodacious high school student Drew Becker (Carmen Electra, who cheerfully toys with her image) making popcorn when the phone rings. A voice on the other end inquires what her favorite scary movie is and she immediately replies, "Kazaam!" Soon, she's running through sprinklers in her underwear with a masked man in pusuit. The next day, her murder is big news at the local high school, and pushy reporter Gale Hailstorm (Cheri Oteri) is on hand to get the story. Meanwhile, cute and innocent Cindy (Anna Faris, who bears a resemblance to Katie Holmes and is making her feature debut) begins to worry that the murder might have something to do with a man she and her friends accidentally killed last Halloween. Her closest pals, Buffy the bimbo (Shannon Elizabeth, the exchange student from American Pie) and Brenda (Regina Hall), and her boyfriend, Bobby (Jon Abrahams), try to convince her otherwise. But the killer is soon stalking her, and not even the efforts of Deputy Dufy (Dave Sheridan) can save the day.

One inherent problem with this type of motion picture is a tendency to lose comic momentum, and Scary Movie suffers from the malaise. The film has a significantly higher laugh quotient at the beginning than near the end, and there are several noticeable dead spots during the final half-hour (part of that results from the necessity of replicating almost every "twist" that happened in Scream). A shorter, tighter version of Scary Movie probably would have been better, but the film's lean running length of 82 minutes is already on the low side of what will play in a multiplex. Nevertheless, the material generates so much laughter that the overriding post-viewing impression is of an uneven film that's definitely worth the time investment.

Wayans gets away with several instances of humor that only a black filmmaker could apply without being called a racist. (He may still be labeled a homophobe and a misogynist by certain overly-sensitive individuals.) For example, he gleefully parodies the image of blacks as being loud, obnoxious theater-goers in a way that no white director would ever attempt. This isn't the first time he has challenged the precepts of political correctness. His feature debut, I'm Gonna Get You Sucka (a parody of blaxploitation movies), and his groundbreaking TV show, "In Living Color", both spent a lot of time on the edge. With Scary Movie, Wayans is taking this approach as far as the MPAA will allow.

Scary Movie had two working titles, both of which were more original than the final one (which, not coincidentally, was the working title for Scream). Like the Wayans' vastly inferior 1996 spoof of urban dramas, Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, this film's provisional titles spliced together references to the movies it satirized: Last Summer I Screamed Because Halloween Fell On Friday the 13th and Scream If You Know What I Did Last Halloween. But (with apologies to William Shakespeare) this movie, by any name, would be as entertaining.

Scary Movie (United States, 2000)

Run Time: 1:22
U.S. Release Date: 2000-07-07
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1