Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
April 2006

The magic is gone

Even with Zucker and Abrahams aboard, 'Scary Movie 4' falls flat

Scary Movie 4
Dimension Films
Director: David Zucker
Screenplay: Jim Abrahams and Craig Mazin
Starring: Anna Faris, Craig Bierko, Leslie Nielsen, Bill Pullman, Regina Hall, Carmen Electra, Conchita Campbell, Dr. Phil and Shaquille O'Neal
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 23 minutes
Opened April 21, 2006
(out of four)

There was a time when David Zucker and Jim Abrahams were kings of the comedy world . . . or at least of the subgenre that they basically created: the spoof movie, a type that took off from films like "Blazing Saddles" and took comedy in a whole new direction.

From the masterful "Airplane!" to "Top Secret!" to the hysterical and underappreciated "Naked Gun" series, they knew how to satirize other movies with more intelligence and verve than anybody. In fact, for a while, they were the only ones who knew how to do it.

Come to think of it, they were just about the only ones who did it. And then came the bad imitators - a lot of them - who flooded the market with bad parody after bad parody, unintentionally turning the entire genre into a parody of itself. It was counter-productivity at its worst. It's not just that Zucker and Abrahams ceased to be relevant, but that movies passed their inventions. In this day and age when sketch comedy and cable TV skewer pop culture with all-too-much regularity, and where we can all find dozens of celebrity spoofs with a quick search of the Internet, the parody movie just doesn't seem to have a place anymore.

Unfortunately, the extremely talented tandem of Zucker and Abrahams still hasn't moved on over the past three decades. Never has that been more apparent than in "Scary Movie 4," the fourth and hopefully final installment of the franchise started by those adorable Wayans brothers.

Zucker was brought on last time to direct "Scary Movie 3," and while that one had a few nice wrinkles, it was a failure. He has brought Abrahams along this time, and the trend continues. This genre is about as dead as they get.

While this team's previous films brilliantly lampooned the mechanics of movies themselves, more recent efforts like this one resort simply to throwing as many pop-culture references on the screen as possible. This is completely unsuccessful not only because such a strategy is cheap and obvious, but because, by the time the movie hits theatres, most of these references were old news six months ago - or more.

Let me give you an example: "Scary Movie 4" makes fun of Mike Tyson's infamous ear-biting incident. This happened NINE YEARS AGO. Count `em - nine. It's not funny anymore. Like most of the rest of the movie, the Tyson scene was staggeringly unoriginal. The inspired magic that once came up with such lines as "Joey . . . do you like movies about gladiators?" is, sadly, gone. Turn out the lights.

While using many plot elements from low-rent horror flicks like "The Grudge" and "Saw," "Scary Movie 4" takes Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" as its basic template - with plenty of "The Village" thrown in as well.

This is not a bad idea in and of itself - the latter two are among the worst artistic disasters I've ever seen, and the deep-seeded passions with which I hate the two films will never be tamed. That said, Zucker and Abrahams (along with co-writer Craig Mazin) completely miss the mark, opting for unfunny running gags and neglecting all that made both films so ripe for satire. There is so much that could be done, and they just blew it.

Instead, the filmmakers waste their time - and ours - with a constant barrage of throwaway references that are as easily written as they are forgotten. We are subjected to a flurry of pop-culture spoofs - Tom Cruise on "Oprah," gay cowboys, iPods, the president reading books to schoolchildren, etc. But haven't these jokes already been done to death? Didn't they wear out their welcome after a few weeks.

To put it simply, any one of us could have written this movie.

There are a few nice touches - such as when Cindy (Anna Faris) and that kid from "The Grudge" engage in a conversation in "Japanese" that consists solely of Japanese brand names ("Sony Toshiba Mitsubishi Sanyo…") - but the film is mostly uninspired.

The problem is, all the jokes we find here are already yesterday's news. Yes, the Tom Cruise thing is funny - but anyone with access to the information superhighway has already seen that kind of spoof already, and it was funnier last summer. That, coupled with sketch comedy TV and the number of spoof movies being produced these days ("Date Movie" was just two months ago), renders "Scary Movie 4" completely obsolete. Not to mention unintelligent and painfully unfunny.

Where is the comic genius that brought us jive talk, O.J.'s giant afro, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dressed up like an airline pilot . . . and, of course, the legendary "Don't call me Shirley" exchange? Perhaps it's where it belongs - in the past, never to be forgotten but bearing no relevance in the 21st Century. It has been replaced by banal, pointless jokes and stale retreads of old-fashioned satire. The parody genre was good while it lasted, I guess, but those days are clearly over . . . Oveur, over. Roger, Roger. What's our vector, Victor? Over!

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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