Bathing one's head in urine: the subtleties of Scary Movie 4

Calculated to be the biggest moneymaker of April 2006’s releases, Scary Movie 4 defies evaluation. I did laugh, but the film has the caloric value of a large bag of Flaming Cheetos quickly washed down with a gallon of diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper. An empty diversion of an hour and a half of our short lives, it doesn’t sit well in the stomach.

Basically a cut-and-paste parody of four movies, one good (War of the Worlds), the other three decidedly mediocre and forgettable (The Grudge, Saw, and The Village), Scary Movie 4 works in the tradition of Airplane and the Naked Gun series as a persistent gagfest--stoner humor for 14 year olds. I like many of those earlier films, but now the comedic form operates as a crude cash cow. Once director Paul Zucker found that the series could make more money by limiting itself to a PG-13 rating, Scary Movie 3 and 4 are naughty but sort of clean. Thus, in this installment Hugh Hefner’s blonde entourage show up in Charlie Sheen’s bed early on, but they demurely wear underwear as they pillow fight with one another. We also see amoebas in a microscope flash their breasts and dance to “Big Butts.”

Note, the unknown “stars” of the movie do not matter nearly as much as the many celebrity cameos. Anna Faris sweetly plays Cindy Campbell as a variation on Sarah Michelle Gellar, but she does not to act well or have any recognizable star power. If she did, she wouldn’t be as funny. Similarly, Craig Bierko plays a version of Tom Cruise both in The War of the Worlds and in a parody of the sofa-jumping scene on Oprah, but again his leading man status pales in comparison to the cameos of Dr. Phil and Shaq humorously obliged to saw off their feet.

Beyond a strong beginning and ending, the film has much filler where I guess we are supposed to say “Wow! I recognize that scene!” A fairly lengthy shift to the Puritanical New England world of The Village lends itself to a blind Carmen Electra mistakenly walking into a full court house and taking a noisy crap on a bench in front of everyone, but otherwise there’s not much to critique.

Most of the basic components of movie reviewing--story, characterization, film technique--do not apply. Certainly, Tom Cruise is ripe for satire, but what does one say about Oscar-winning Cloris Leachman playing a catatonic old woman who has urine poured over her head or 80 year old Leslie Nielson grotesquely appearing in the nude? At one point, an African American gay cowboy (Anthony Anderson) mistakes his tired grandmother for a zombie, beats her up, and plunges her down a manhole cover as he proclaims she lovingly raised him from birth.

Perhaps the film reflects the increasing frustration of a younger generation having the shoulder the burden of the elderly, but one could point to the similarly slapstick treatment of the Dakota Fanning knock-off little girl (Conchita Campbell) who has her head slammed in a car door and gets struck by lightning numerous times. Curiously, when the movie makers mimic a scene, they often do it well. I had no trouble recognizing the Martian probe that lowers itself down in the dark basement where Michael Madsen, Craig, and the imitation Fanning cower, fearful for their lives, until it mistakes a vacuum cleaner for one of its kind and starts to hump it.

So, do I recommend Scary Movie 4? One might benefit more from sitting and staring blankly alone in one’s room for 90 minutes. Life is cheap, the film seems to say, and after awhile all we remember are the pop culture detritus of movies we never liked much to begin with.