Thursday, 15 June 2006

Scary Movie 4 (2006)

How did Hollywood forget how to make comedies?

Once upon a time (okay, that was 1980), the Zucker brothers brought you Airplane! The movie basically spoofs an entire series of airplane disaster movies. Together with Jim Abrahams David and Jerry Zucker continued their comic spoofs in Top Secret! (spoofing WW2 and Elvis movies), the Naked Gun trilogy (cop and noir movies), and Hot Shots (Top Gun). Those were the days when this comedy style was considered smart and funny, mixing non-stop gags with a consistent parody of a film genre per movie. And then it’s all downhill from here. Jerry Zucker has retired from scriptwriting, while the idea of spoof movies fizzled out, even with Mel Brooks directing Dracula: Dead and Loving It.

It’s no surprise then, that the Scary Movie franchise – a throwback to the Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker spoof film concept – actually began without the team. Scary Movie 4 brings back David Zucker and Jim Abrahams. Will their stint be any better than when the Wayans brothers were helming the franchise?

If you have been watching movies in the local cinema for the past few months, you would’ve seen the trailers for Scary Movie 4. These trailers are entire spoof scenes from the movie, meaning you already know some of the gags and spoofs that take place. There’s an iPod gag that segues into a War of the Worlds spoof, a Tom Cruise on Oprah Winfrey spoof, another spoof of M Night Shyamalam’s The Village, Saw, Saw II, and a gag by Leslie Nielson on GW Bush’s The Pet Goat 9/11 incident.

Without giving the plot away (and indeed, is there any?), the movie also spoofs The Grudge, Brokeback Mountain, and Million Dollar Baby. Cultural references are also worked in, such as bling bling, Mike Tyson’s ear chewing incident, Michael Jackson’s relationships with children, and Viagra.

There’s a huge problem with this instalment, as with all the Scary Movie sequels. The scriptwriters do not understand that references to a movie do not constitute a parody, spoof, or satire of that movie. Just because a certain scene makes a reference to some other movie does not make it funny. An endless sequence of gimmicks like these do not add up to a comedy. Nor does an obsession with people getting hit in the face.

There’s a silver lining in this almost unwatchable comedy: the special effects for the War of the Worlds spoof sequences look very expensive and recreate the actual look of the Martian machines and their death rays in the original movie. Zucker and Abraham have lost their touch; their gags may come in an almost non-stop torrent, but these are a pale shadow of the actually funny and sometimes brilliant verbal jokes from their 1980s comedies. What actually worked for me was the running gags involving Chris Bierko as a well-meaning but negligent and incompetent father.

There’s one reason why the spoof movie genre is on its dying legs. Spoof movies have devolved into spoofing just about any pop cultural event or movie from the previous year. If Airplane! Top Secret or even Hot Shots had a coherent plot from spoofing just one genre at a time, their last surviving descendent, the Scary Movie franchise, has none because it spoofs everything and anything. Why pay money to watch in a cinema months later what you can watch for free on television in sketches of Saturday Night Live, MADtv, the David Letterman Show, or The Daily Show? If some sketches fall flat on these television shows, you know that the next skit might be better. In Scary Movie 4, the next skit is just more of the same referencing to last year’s movies and (by now) outdated cultural references.

First published at incinemas on 22 June 2006

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