(On Cable TV, February 2014) The art of the parody movie has eroded so dramatically since the ZAZ heydays of Airplane! and Top Secret! that contemporary standards for those kinds of films are, to put it mildly, abysmal. If it’s not from Friedberg/Seltzer, then it’s already a notch above the worst. If it’s not wall-to-wall covered with sadistic slapstick violence, it’s another rung up. (But I repeat myself) If it tries something slightly funnier than simply re-create scenes from well-known movies then we’re already comfortably above the bottom of the barrel. Sadly, this doesn’t mean that Scary Movie 5 is a good movie; it just means that it’s not as bad as it could have been. I suppose that anyone willingly choosing to watch this film can’t complain if it sucks: The previous installments of the series have ranged from terrible to mediocre, so it’s not as if the series has a reputation to maintain. This time around, Scary Movie 5 rounds up sequences and references to films ranging from 2010 to 2013, curiously choosing the inconsequential Mama as a framework, Paranormal Activity as methodology and delving into both Black Swan and Rise of the Planet of the Apes for extended sequences. (There are smaller, lamer riffs off Inception, The Help, Sinister and Evil Dead, as well as an attempt to spoof 50 Shades of Gray before it even comes out) It occasionally gets a few grins: The opening sequence with Charlie Sheen and Lindsey Lohan works well because Sheen handles most of the comedic heavy lifting and Lohan looks surprisingly good. There’s a beautifully absurd pool-robot-party sequence late in the film that had me giggling like an idiot, and a few gags here and there earn at least a chuckles. Anna Faris and Regina Hall are sorely missing from this fifth entry, but Ashley Tisdale does her best to step up in the lead role, understanding that in this kind of film you don’t have to be good as much as being game to do the silliest things. To its credit, Scary Movie 5 doesn’t just rely on cartoon violence and laugh-free recreations. But it rarely manages to go beyond the cheap laughs and easy targets. It seldom trusts the viewers to figure out the joke, explaining it in far too much detail and killing it in the process. (Tellingly, the best running gag of the film are the split-second glimpses of the antagonist running around in the background.) Scary Movie 5 struggles to make it to 75 minutes before adding a 15-minutes-long credit/outtake/cookies sequence. While the film has enough grins to avoid raising outrage like many of the worst examples of the genre, it’s not good enough to get more than a lukewarm okay-if-you-like-that-kind-of-thing. Frankly, when it comes to dumb Paranormal Activity spoofs, A Haunted House –itself no paragon of comic filmmaking– did it first and did it better.
(In theaters, April 2006) Roughly similar in tone to the previous Scary Movie 3, this one is a comedy grab-bag that chiefly goes after (in decreasing order of importance) War Of The Worlds, The Grudge and The Village, with other assorted pokes and tweaks at other films (Saw, Million Dollar Baby and Brokeback Mountain) and pop-culture icons. Scary Movie 4‘s biggest problem is that it’s quite happy to pastiche other films, but seldom goes for the jugular: Movie critics had funnier jabs at War Of The Worlds during the summer of 2005 than the parody ever manages to put together. (The constantly-screaming little girl shtick isn’t even mocked.) Scary Movie 4, alas, is almost completely bloodless in its parodies: it recreates the original with some goofiness but seldom more. (This being said, the production values are often impressive, especially considering the short shooting schedule) Even the rare political gags only make us wish for much more. It’s no surprise, then, if some of the film’s cleverest moments stand completely apart from previous films. As for the actors, well Anna Faris is still cute in an increasingly irritating clueless shtick, while Craig Bierko does well with the thankless task of parodying Tom Cruise. Still, it’s Regina Hall who steals the show as the insatiable Brenda: her arrival in the movie kicks it up another notch (plus, doesn’t she look unbelievably cute in founder’s-era clothing?) Yes, Scary Movie 4 will make you laugh. Dumb, cheap, easy laughs but still; consider it your reward for slogging through endless mainstream horror films.
(In theaters, October 2003) The good news are that most of the the overly gross moments of the first two films of the series have been removed; what remains may not be too tasteful (decapitations, paedophilia and dismemberment are featured here and there) but at least it’s more palatable than before. Veteran spoof director David Zucker overuses slapstick over more amusing silliness (witness the “seven days” exchange), but Scary Movie 3 still feels a lot more respectable for it. Alas, the bad news are that the comedic highlights of the first two films have also been filed off, with an overall result that is a lot more tepid than it should be. The film floats from one grin to another, with few belly-laughs in between. The visual and cinematographic re-creation of the parodies (Signs, The Ring, 8 Mile, etc) is irreproachable, but the film often does next to nothing with the material it’s given. Leslie Nielsen, continues to be obnoxious with his usual shtick, though I wonder how many will get the joke of his last appearance in the film. All in all, a rather mixed effort that feels somewhat lazy. Not the bottom of the barrel (and certainly a step up from the past five year’s worth of spoof comedies), but still far away from the genre’s best efforts. Catch it on TV late at night.
(On DVD, October 2002) The first film was a genuinely amusing satire marred by gratuitous gross-out gags. This one is a poor attempt at a comedy marred by even more gratuitous gross-out gags. It’s not that you’re not grinning (to be fair, the sequences referring to The Exorcist, Mission: Impossible 2 and Charlie’s Angels are worth a discount rental alone if you’re a fan of the original films), it’s that you feel quite guilty for doing so. And whereas the prequel’s gross-out gags had some amusing value, the ones in here are simply mystifying: did someone truly believe, at any moment during the production, that these would be funny? Particularly annoying is Chris Elliot’s character, whose antics are simply perplexing. The rest of the cast is so-so, with Anna Faris doing her best to be as bland as possible and Tim Curry shamelessly collecting a pay-check. (James Woods, however, is as good as usual in his quasi-cameo.) Big fans of satiric comedies might enjoy (“Let’s fight Mad Cow style! Moo! Mutherf…”), but I’d recommend Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday The 13th… well before this one. The DVD contains some forty-odd minutes of deleted and alternate scenes, and it’s telling that they are roughly of the same quality than the rest of the film.
(In theaters, July 2000) If ever there was a genre which deserved its satiric roasting, it’s the late-nineties “teen horror” craze, which -for all its hip self-awareness- wasn’t all that much better than its predecessors, the early-eighties slasher films. Scary Movie takes up the task with gusto, and despite an annoying intrusion of gross-out comedy, the film is oodles better than most satiric comedies have been in years. The script is filled with genuinely funny material, and most parodies are on-target. I’d have cut about five minutes of unnecessary vulgar material (which gets old real quickly, and ends up annoying rather than amusing), but the rest works well. Wait for the TV network version.