Scary Movie 4 (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Scary Movie 4 is better than Scary Movie 3. Writing that sentence falls into the category of damning with faint praise, because the experience of sitting through the third installment of the comedy series was as pleasant as spreading organic fertilizer on the hottest day of the summer. The sense of desperation that pervaded Scary Movie 3 is gone, and there are enough laughs in Scary Movie 4 to keep most viewers distracted for a majority of its skinny 80-minute running time. But, to go with the good, there's plenty of bad, and it comes in the form of countless gags that misfire, far too much flatulence and urine, and (God help us) a buck naked Leslie Nielsen. Admittedly, that scene certainly puts the "scary" in Scary Movie 4.

Plot is irrelevant to this film, so it's not worth talking about what passes for one. Scary Movie 4 is a cobbled together parody of four generally accessible movies: Saw, War of the Worlds, The Grudge, and The Village. Along the way, there are digs at other movies like Fahrenheit 9/11 (although one could question whether this is a swipe at the film or at the President) and Brokeback Mountain. The way in which these storylines are interwoven makes no sense, but it doesn't have to. The production team features David Zucker and Jim Abrahams, two of the three members of ZAZ (Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker), the trio responsible for Airplane! and The Naked Gun, and their goal is to find a familiar looking backdrop for a clothesline of spoofs and jokes. This "saturation style" of comedy doesn't work as well as it has in the past because the ratio of failed jokes to successful ones is too high. It's not exactly work to sit through Scary Movie 4, but there are times when it comes close.

Returning for the fourth episode is Anna Faris, who once again plays the irrepressible Cindy Campbell. Faris is either a good sport or desperately in need of work. Speaking of good sports, there's 80-year old Leslie Nielsen, who plays a dim version of George W. Bush. For the first time in his career, Nielsen does a nude scene - or does he? It could easily be a stunt double, but it really doesn't matter. The scene is kind of funny in an "eeww" sort of way. And it's not as if Nielsen could embarrass himself any more than he did in Scary Movie 3. The other lead is Craig Bierko, who does his best Tom Cruise impersonation - and yes, that includes jumping around on a faux Oprah's couch before getting into a fist fight with her.

There are plenty of cameos, but all are of the low-rent sort. Shaquille O'Neal and Dr. Phil appear in the opening scene playing out a scenario from Saw. Charlie Sheen reprises his role from Scary Movie 3. Hef's three girlfriends play a game of Scrabble. (Why in the world would anyone be interested in watching these three play a board game? I can think of much more interesting things to watch them do.) Michael Madsen does what he does best - look mean. Mike Tyson dresses in drag and bites a few ears. And Bill Pullman shows up under a thick beard - apparently hoping he can pick up a paycheck without anyone recognizing him.

What more is there to say about Scary Movie 4? It's a far cry from the hilarious, edgy antics of Scary Movie, but it has about as much going for it as the first sequel. It's a cash cow for its distributors (Dimension and Miramax), and doesn't have to make much at the box office to be a bona fide success. The quality is strictly direct-to-video, but that won't stop kids from flocking to see it. (The series received a ratings downgrade from R to PG-13 with Scary Movie 3.) It's okay for a few cheap laughs, but better suited for late-night cable viewing than even a matinee ticket purchase. If you decide to sit this one out, never fear - I am reasonably certain there will soon be a Scary Movie 5. There are some things that won't die, and this series is one of them.

Scary Movie 4 (United States, 2006)

Director: David Zucker
Cast: Anna Faris, Craig Bierko, Regina Hall, Leslie Nielsen, Charlie Sheen, Bill Pullman
Screenplay: Craig Mazin and Jim Abrahams
Cinematography: Thomas E. Ackerman
Music: James L. Venable
U.S. Distributor: Dimension Films
Run Time: 1:20
U.S. Release Date: 2006-04-14
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Violence, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1