You kids today, with your “Date Movie” pseudo-spoofs and your PG-13 horror remakes and your “SNL”-fueled misconceptions about satire — you don’t remember what REAL movie parodies were like, back in the days of “Airplane!” and “Top Secret!” Back then, movie parodies were so goofy that the federal government required them to have exclamation points in their titles, to warn the viewer. That’s the way it was, and we liked it!
For slapsticky, loose-limbed, MAD Magazine-style movie satires, you can do no better than the works of director David Zucker, whose “Airplane!” defined the genre, whose “Top Secret!” perfected it, and whose “Naked Gun” furthered it. “Scary Movie 3” was a return to form for the long-dormant Zucker, and now, reunited with his long-time writers Pat Proft and Jim Abrahams (along with SM3 scribe Craig Mazin), he has assembled the respectably amusing and juvenile “Scary Movie 4.” It’s no classic, but it’s no dud, either.
The plot rather cleverly combines elements of “The Grudge,” “War of the Worlds” and “Saw,” with sequences parodying “The Village,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “Brokeback Mountain” thrown in for good measure. “Scary Movie” stalwart Cindy Campbell (the under-appreciated Anna Faris) is now a home-hospice nurse caring for a catatonic old woman (Cloris Leachman) whose house is haunted by an androgynous Asian boy-ghost. Meanwhile, next door, there’s a divorced man named Tom Ryan (Craig Bierko), whose situation will remind viewers of Tom Cruise’s in “War of the Worlds” (complete with stentorian narration, not by Morgan Freeman but by James Earl Jones). When alien tripods (which look like iPods, hardy-har) begin killing people, Tom and Cindy must save the day.
Previous participants such as Charlie Sheen, Regina Hall, Anthony Anderson and Simon Rex show up here and there, too, and all continue to revel in the silliness with admirable gleefulness. Keen-eyed viewers will also notice the presence of Bill Pullman, who appeared in “The Grudge” but is featured in the “Village” portion of this movie. (Charlie Sheen takes Pullman’s spot in the “Grudge” parody, and I wonder: Why didn’t they have Pullman do it?)
Leslie Nielsen has only a few scenes as the clueless U.S. president (a role he has earned as the godfather of this kind of comedy), but he makes them count. His Bush-like reaction to the news that the world is being invaded is priceless.
The jokes are hit-or-miss, but they occur in Zucker’s typical rapid-fire pattern, so you’ll catch a bit of comedy shrapnel no matter what. When you’re being sprayed with a barrage of birdshot, a few pellets are bound to hit you even if a lot of them don’t. Just ask Dick Cheney.
And the “War of the Worlds” satire is actually very astute and funny, right down to a Dakota Fanning lookalike character who does nothing but scream. When the aliens make everyone’s machines stop working, it includes bicycles and skateboards, too; gangsters are vaporized by the alien laser beam and leave only their bling behind; and in the scene where everyone goes out to their backyards to watch the storm clouds, the wind whipping violently through the clothes on the clotheslines, we hear three questions yelled:
“Where are these clouds coming from?”
“Why is the wind blowing toward the storm?”
“How come none of us have dryers?”
The other spoofs are somewhat less inspired, with the “Brokeback Mountain” sequence feeling more obligatory than anything. (“Brokeback” and “Million Dollar Baby” weren’t scary movies anyway, no matter what Michael Medved says.) Similarly, Craig Bierko’s impression of Tom Cruise on the Oprah show would have been really timely last year but now feels embarrassingly old. Heck, my Dick Cheney joke was old, and that only happened two months ago.
You gotta move fast in the spoof business, which is why the “Scary Movie” films, focusing as they do on specific movies instead of the genre at large, are so scattershot. It takes months to make a movie, and many ripe targets don’t stay fresh that long. On the other hand, if you’ve always wanted to see Leslie Nielsen’s naked 80-year-old butt, now’s your chance.
Trivia: This is the best movie ever made whose title ends with the number 4.
B- (1 hr., 23 min.; )