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(2006) (Anna Faris, Craig Bierko) (PG-13)

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Comedy: Various horror films and other cultural icons are spoofed in this fourth installment of the comedy series.
In this continuing spoof series, former anchorwoman Cindy Campbell (ANNA FARIS) has given up the TV biz in favor of trying her hand at home health care. Her first client is the catatonic Mrs. Norris (CLORIS LEACHMAN) who lives in a house haunted by the ghost of a young Japanese boy. Next door lives dock crane operator Tom Ryan (CRAIG BIERKO) who's divorced from Marilyn (MOLLY SHANNON) and doesn't have the strongest relationship with their teenage son Robbie (BEAU MIRCHOFF) or his younger sister Rachel (CONCHITA CAMPBELL). Accordingly, he tries to drown his sorrows while chatting with former rap promoter turned gay camper Mahalik (ANTHONY ANDERSON).

All of their lives are shattered, however, when a bunch of enormous, alien pod creatures erupt from the ground and wreak havoc on their town. After surviving the initial attack, Tom takes the kids and flees, as does Cindy who's reunited with her best friend Brenda (REGINA HALL). They end up in a remote village that's seemingly from another time where Henry Hale (BILL PULLMAN) appears to be the leader, Holly (CARMEN ELECTRA) is the gorgeous blind woman and Ezekiel (CHRIS ELLIOTT) is the town idiot.

Despite U.S. President Baxter Harris (LESLIE NIELSEN) being informed of the situation, the attacks continue unabated, all as Tom tries to protect his kids and Cindy tries to decipher a clue given to her by the ghost boy that might provide a solution to their collective problem.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
By the time most any film series gets to its third or fourth installment -- particularly in the spoof genre -- plots are pretty much a moot point. Either they simply repeat what's preceded them or they're pretty much an afterthought -- a skeleton upon which to hang the many gags. Such is the case with "Scary Movie 4," the -- natch -- fourth version of the hugely popular films that began back in 2000 (in an R-rated version, just like the 2001 sequel before the third installment moved into PG-13 territory in 2003).

To say the film is plot impaired is to state the all too obvious. As is to be expected, the skit-structured story -- from the fertile minds of Craig Mazin & Jim Abrahams - is present simply to connect the various parodies. Belying the title, they don't just cover horror films, but also popular titles from other genres, cultural icons, and political figures (although there would seem to be a lot of material regarding the last two elements from the past three years that's been overlooked).

Accordingly, the only way to critique such a film is by how much of it elicits laughs. With David Zucker behind the camera, one would expect and/or hope the percentage would be high. After all, he was the madcap genius behind the original "Airplane" and "Naked Gun" movies which still stand as some of the best spoof films ever made.

But then one remembers that he was also responsible for "My Boss's Daughter" as well as the last "Scary Movie" (taking over from the Wayans brothers who bailed after two times at bat). While the latter wasn't an outright disaster, it was more of a miss than hit experience.

The same can be said about this offering that starts off well with a somewhat clever parody of "Saw." In it, Shaquille O'Neal and Dr. Phil (as themselves) find themselves trapped in a filthy bathroom where Shaq must sink some unusual free throws (with large rocks) to ensure their release. Any fan (or detractor) of the former Lakers and current Miami Heat center knows that's his Achilles heel, and thus the film starts off in a decent manner.

From there, it follows Anna Faris whose character has given up TV for home health care (so that gags about the "The Grudge" and related films can be spawned) where Cloris Leachman gets a rather unusual and colorful sponge bath.

A bigger chunk of the film, however, focuses on Craig Bierko playing Tom Cruise in "War of the Worlds" and having to deal with family issues when those walking alien pods show up (spawned from a giant Ipod) and start blasting away. That eventually leads to a rather lengthy visit to the movie "The Village" that was so serious it deserved spoofing, but perhaps not this much.

Along the way, other horror films get ribbed, but so do non-genre ones such as "Brokeback Mountain" and "Million Dollar Baby." Sadly, the "funny" stuff poking fun at those movies is rather flat and uninspired, just like a bit involving Michael Jackson that was old years ago.

I didn't find any of the bits as hilarious this time around compared to the previous entries. A few are moderately funny but the rest simply fall flat (including the requisite diarrhea scene, where filmmakers still seem intent on portraying beautiful women -- this time, Carmen Electra -- having some serious intestinal issues).

Of course, viewer reaction will vary wildly, but the film clearly isn't of the same caliber as those "Airplane" and "Naked Gun" flicks. And although the parodies are technically spot-on (which makes them more fun than shows like "Saturday Night Live" trying to do similar spoofs but on a much lower budget), the filmmakers still make the cardinal sin of crafting episodic replicas rather than a standalone comedy.

Thus, one has to have seen or at least be familiar with the movies in question to get the full extent of the joke, whereas that wasn't a problem in those earlier Zucker films that spoofed more of the general genre than any specific entries. And by spending so much time within the confines of just a few movies, the pic never gains enough comedic momentum to really get going and generate the laughs.

One thing the film would seem to have going for it is the return of Leslie Nielsen who plays the dimwitted President of the United States. After all, he was one of the highlights of the "Airplane" movies ("Don't call my 'Surely'") and the star of the "NG" ones. But just like his director, he's had some misfires -- including in this genre, such as the last installment of this series.

His scene spoofing the famous presidential inaction moment in "Fahrenheit 9/11" has potential and generates a brief laugh, but then goes on too long, just like most of the film's individual moments. (The whole thing runs a scant 83 minutes, including a very long end credit roll that unfortunately doesn't offer anything else even attempting to be funny, but it does include various rap songs that feel out of place and are presumably present to try to sell soundtrack copies and appease the otherwise unknown rappers who appear in the film).

Faris and Regina Hall reprise their roles from the last go round (despite the latter seemingly being killed in number three) but aren't particularly funny. That also holds true for Bierko who may have some of the Cruise mannerisms down pat (although not as good as Ben Stiller years ago in a MTV movie awards skit portraying the actor's body double). A closing bit poking fun of the infamous appearance on Oprah might seem inspired, but it also goes on way too long without generating enough laughs to warrant its screen time.

Overall, the film offers enough okay laughs that it's not a flat-out fiasco like the recent (and probably already forgotten) "Date Movie." But that doesn't mean its certain financial success should beget the inevitable "Scary Movie 5" -- a scary and certainly not very funny prospect. This fourth installment of the series rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed April 14, 2006 / Posted April 14, 2006

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