[Screen It]

(2000) (Anna Faris, Shawn Wayans) (R)

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Comedy: Horror films such as "Scream" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer" get the comedic send-up in this spoof of the genre as several teens try to survive the repeated attacks of a masked killer.
In this spoof of horrors films such as "Scream" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer," a masked killer begins attacking a group of teenagers, the first victim being Drew Decker (CARMEN ELECTRA). High school student and all-American girl-next-door Cindy Campbell (ANNA FARIS) soon finds that she's the killer's main target and then realizes that the killer's actions may stem from an incident a summer ago when she and her friends accidentally killed someone and then disposed of the body.

Among her co-conspirators are her sex-crazed boyfriend, Bobby (JON ABRAHAMS), as well as Ray (SHAWN WAYANS), the high school football star who may or may not be gay and his girlfriend Brandy (REGINA HALL) who's best friends with Cindy. Then there's Buffy (SHANNON ELIZABETH), the prettiest but one of the most dimwitted girls in school and her boyfriend Greg (LOCHLYN MUNRO), an intense fellow and teammate of Ray's.

The killer's actions obviously create interest in others as well, including the local sheriff (KURT FULLER) and his dimwitted high school assistant - and Buffy's brother -- Doofy (DAVE SHERIDAN), as well as an over ambitious TV reporter, Gail Hailstorm (CHERI OTERI) who wants to get the exclusive scoop on the killer and his spree. With Cindy, her friends, and even the school's "stoner," Shorty (MARLON WAYANS), trying to figure out the killer's identity while avoiding contact with him, various parodies of horror films and other pictures play out as the number of victims continues to grow.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Like most movie genres, comedies come in all shapes, forms and sizes, and obviously appeal differently to different viewers. The best, at least in the humble opinion of yours truly, are those that are completely original and catch everyone off guard, and thus manage to impress both critics and the average moviegoer alike.

With each subsequent release of another comedy, however, that becomes increasingly difficult. As such, most filmmakers often resort to borrowing material from other films, rearranging it and/or giving it a fresh spin and then releasing it as something new.

Such resultant comedies come in the form of remakes (such as "Flubber"), those with plots similar in one way or another to previous films ("Mrs. Doubtfire") and those that are parodies of certain pictures (such as the "Austin Powers" movies). The extreme form of that latter style is the spoof film that recreates familiar scenes from films of a certain genre and then near relentlessly pokes fun at them, although it's not unusual for most anything - such as other films and/or people or events currently in the news -- to be fair game in that context.

Like those other comedic forms, there are obviously going to be hits and misses, with the best success coming from the filmmaking team of David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams who entertained us via the "Naked Gun" and "Airplane" films. Of course, to make a good spoof style film such as those, certain key ingredients are necessary and must be mixed together properly to ensure a satisfying yield.

Good source material is obviously a must, and whether it's airline films ("Airplane"), detective pictures ("The Naked Gun"), mobster movies ("Mafia!") or films dealing with gung-ho military pilots ("Hot Shots!"), the more familiar the audience is with the genre and its stereotypical and often laughable material, the greater the chance of eliciting laughs.

There also has to be enough such source material to keep the film fueled and the related gags and jokes coming, as well as the proper sarcastic, imaginative and clever approach at recreating familiar scenes and characters so that audiences can not only identify the comedic setup, but also then enjoy the ensuing punch line.

Horror movies, and particularly the relatively popular slasher film sub-genre, are especially ripe for the picking. Although 1990's "Repossessed" had Linda Blair reprising her "Exorcist" role along with spoof veteran Leslie Nielsen, and one could stretch the definition of a parody and include 1974's brilliant "Young Frankenstein" in such a list, it's somewhat surprising that the true spoof craze hasn't visited the horror genre more often.

Of course, the recent "Scream" films respectfully poked fun at the genre's various conventions and unofficial/unwritten behavioral "rules," but did so more with a nod and a wink rather than a sharp and pointy, sarcastic prod. Notwithstanding that fact, director Keenan Ivory Wayans - who's no stranger to the spoof world after directing the blaxploitation film "I'm Gonna Get You Sucka" and working on the TV show "In Living Color - has used "Scream" and other such related films as the basis for his latest spoof, "Scary Movie."

Raunchy, irreverent and occasionally quite hilarious, the film utilizes the same machine gun approach used by other such efforts, and in doing so, hopes that at least some of what's thrown out will strike the viewer's funny-bone. While the success rate of such an approach obviously lies in the quality of the material and how penetrable one's individual sense of humor might be, one certainly can't criticize the film for lacking in its efforts of trying to crack up its audience.

As with previous spoofs that played off other genres, the more one knows about this one - and in particular the films "Scream" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer" - the better chance they'll have of understanding, appreciating and enjoying what's present. That said, and like the better spoofs, other non-related material is also present, thus ensuring that relatively few viewers will be completely left in the dark (which is never a good place to be in a horror film - funny or not).

Although most of the jokes do stem from those two films - with funny bits spoofing the opening scene from "Scream" and the beauty pageant contest sequence in "IKWYDLS" -- others come at the expense of "The Blair Witch Project" and even "The Sixth Sense" where a druggie states that he sees dead people and a profane comment is then made about the quality of the drugs he's taking that have induced such visions.

In addition, some of the jokes and gags are best left unrepeated (and truth be told, they'd probably lose a lot in the translation from experiencing them to trying to explain them), but there's some material here that would make the Farrelly brothers (of "There's Something About Mary" fame) proud, while it's likely to offend or gross out others.

While there are indeed some funny and inspired bits (not to mention the film's reported working titles - "Last Summer I Screamed Because Halloween Fell On Friday the 13th" and "Scream If You Know What I Did Last Halloween" - that unfortunately don't appear in the final version), it's too bad the film's creative forces didn't have more of a field day with other popular films and scenes from the genre (such as having the characters here recognize the music and scenery from past horror films they suddenly find themselves in, etc.).

It's also somewhat unfortunate that they then opt to jump ship, if you will, by hitting on films from other genres (bits inspired by "The Matrix" with the camera spinning around a subject who's frozen in midair are getting old, as are the "Titanic" jokes). The inclusion of other contemporary gags - one moment has various characters going through the "Wassuuuup!?!?" primal greeting bit - may achieve short term laughs, but will quickly become and then seem antiquated in the not so distant viewing future.

Noticeably missing Leslie Nielsen (who's appeared in more than his fair share of such films), the film does contain two gags regarding its cast and the characters they play. Mocking most of the teen slasher flicks, the cast is made up of older performers playing teenage characters, whose names - or parts thereof - are based on those of the real-life performers or the characters they play. As such, there's a Buffy and Drew, and a Ms. Campbell.

As far as the performers themselves, the likes of Shannon Elizabeth ("American Pie"), newcomer Anna Farris, Jon Abrahams ("Outside Providence"), Regina Hall ("The Best Man"), Cheri Oteri (TV's "Saturday Night Live"), and the Wayans brothers, Shawn (TV's "The Wayans Brothers") and Marlon ("Senseless"), obviously aren't striving for award nominations or critical accolades with their performances. While they're generally okay for this sort of picture, none of their characters - just as is the case with most of the major films they spoof - are particularly memorable.

Fortunately, the filmmakers didn't try to insert an original storyline as the backbone for the feature (instead it pretty much follows the "Scream" films) and then watch in horror as it goes belly up (as do most such add-on plots that usually don't work and instead end up sucking the creativity from the parody). That said, the film does run out of steam, and the jokes arrive less rapidly and with less wit, however, as it draws to a close.

While it's better than other spoof films of the past and does contain some funny and occasionally outrageous jokes and sight gags, "Scary Movie" doesn't live up to the hilarious standards set by the likes of the "Airplane" and "Naked Gun" films. That said, it does contain enough such material to appease fans of the spoof genre and thus warrants a middle of the road rating of 5 out of 10.

Reviewed June 28, 2000 / Posted July 7, 2000

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