[Screen It]


(2001) (Anna Faris, Marlon Wayans) (R)

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Comedy: Various college students try to survive spending the night in a haunted mansion in this spoof of various horror films.
Several years after surviving a serial killer's murder spree, a quartet of students is now attending college together. Among them is Cindy (ANNA FARIS), an all-American, girl-next-door who's found that a fellow student, Buddy (CHRIS MASTERSON), is sweet on her. Then there are high school sweethearts Ray (SHAWN WAYANS) and Brenda (REGINA HALL) who are still a couple despite Ray's homosexual inclinations. Finally, there's Shorty (MARLON WAYANS) who hasn't given up his pot smoking ways.

They all end up taking a class where they're to spend the night, along with fellow students Alex (TORI SPELLING) and Theo (KATHLEEN ROBERTSON), in the reportedly haunted Hell House for some sort of sleep study conducted by a local professor (TIM CURRY) and his wheelchair bound assistant, Dwight (DAVID CROSS).

Little do they know that the professor is really hoping to catch sight of the former owner's spirit (RICHARD MOLL) and maybe get "lucky" with one of the young ladies. As they put up with a foul-mouthed parrot (voice of MATTHEW FRIEDMAN) and find themselves continually freaked out by the mansion's handyman, Hanson (CHRIS ELLIOT), and his deformed hand, the various students find themselves trapped there as various supernatural occurrences begin to occur.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Perhaps there's something to all of those old fables and tales and the various simple, but wise messages they contain. Many people are familiar with the one concerning the tortoise and the hare and its slow and steady wins the race message. I certainly could have followed the advice back in high school during soccer tryouts.

Given the task of running a timed one mile distance, I shot out of the gate like a jackrabbit and led the rest of the field by a quite a distance for the first two laps. Of course, while I impressed the coaches at first, I couldn't keep up the pace, lost most of my momentum, and concluded with an unremarkable finish that diminished - in the eyes of the important audience - my spectacular and what looked to be a promising start.

The filmmakers responsible for "Scary Movie 2" should have paid heed to the tortoise and hare philosophy as well. That's because this rushed into production sequel to the surprise smash hit of 2000 starts off with a great bang, but then sputters along to a slow-paced and forgettable conclusion. Just as was the case with my sprint to potential glory, the film simply can't sustain its shot out of a cannon pace and thus will likely disappoint viewers due to heightened expectations that simply can't be met.

Like the original "Scary Movie," this film - directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans ("A Low Down Dirty Shame, "I'm Gonna Get You Sucka") and written by a plethora of scribes including Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Alyson Fouse, Greg Grabianski, Dave Polsky, Michael Anthony Snowden and Craig Wayans - is a joke-filled parody of horror films. Whereas the first used the "Scream" films as the basis and skeletal structure for its plot and many gags, this one originates from 1999's "The Haunting" with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Liam Neeson.

While that in and upon itself is a bit of a problem - since fewer people saw and/or are familiar with the latter film and thus won't get as many of the jokes and references --- the picture suffers from the same cinematic malady that befalls many such parodies. Namely, that's that they end up being not much more than a thematically, but otherwise loosely connected assembly of skits and jokes. Like the first film and other such spoofs, the filmmakers take the machine gun approach to this sort of comedy here where they fire out as many jokes as rapidly as they can, hoping that at least some will hit the target.

Accordingly, not only do we get spoofs of scenes from horror films such as "The Exorcist," "Poltergeist," "Hannibal" and "Hollow Man," but also ones from non-horror pictures such as "Mission: Impossible 2," "Charlie's Angels," "Titanic" and even "Dirty Harry." Then there's the hodgepodge of other source material including Monica Lewinsky, Firestone tires and the missing Florida election year 2000 ballots.

Not surprisingly, some of the material works and some doesn't, with a few of the jokes destined to be dated rather soon, and other bits coming from movies that some won't recognize (such as "Dude, Where's My Car?"). Of course, if done correctly, such moments can still play well within their own context, even if the source material is foreign to the viewer, but this film doesn't succeed at that with every attempt.

All of which is too bad since the film starts off with such a clever, vulgar and gut-busting hilarious opening sequence. Spoofing various bits from "The Exorcist," the filmmakers have fashioned what's arguably one of the funniest couple of minutes I've seen in a film in a long, long time. It's certainly not for everyone, but for those who don't mind the gross-out humor or inappropriate material and love a pitch perfect spoof - with an absolutely terrific cameo by James Woods ("Vampires," "Contact") as one of the priests - the opening bit will have viewers rolling in the aisles and is likely to bring tears to your eyes and pains to your gut from laughing so much and so hard.

Unfortunately, but not altogether surprisingly, the film can't sustain such inspired comic mayhem and hilarity, although it occasionally still manages to knock a few jokes and gags out the ballpark. Most of the remaining material - okay, all of it - is decidedly sophomoric and/or stupid, thus insuring that it will continue to play well to some segment of viewers even if it's clearly not as inspired as the opening sequence.

It's just unfortunate that so much of it keeps beating a dead comedy horse from time to time - in this case, the jokes about the butler's deformed hand and a profanity spewing parrot - that don't come off a clever, imaginative or funny as some of the other material. It also seems odd - despite it also occurring in the original film - for the picture to include so much non-horror parody moments.

While I understand that the filmmakers have pretty much run out of related source material that the majority of viewers will get and/or appreciate, the inclusion of the other bits begins to feel like a desperate attempt at filling up the rest of the film's scant 90 or so minute runtime with enough jokes and gags to keep viewers interested and engaged. Although most all such parodies have done the same, the result here isn't as seamless as in the best of them, namely the "Airplane" and "Naked Gun" films.

As far as the acting is concerned, it's pretty much rote for a film like this, with the likes of Anna Faris ("Scary Movie"), Marlon Wayans ("Requiem For a Dream," "The Sixth Man"), Shawn Wayans ("Scary Movie," "I'm Gonna Get You Sucka") and Regina Hall ("Love & Basketball," "The Best Man") reprising their parts from the original. Tori Spelling ("Trick," "The House of Yes"), Tim Curry ("Charlie's Angels, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"), Kathleen Robertson ("Beautiful," "Dog Park"), Chris Elliot ("Snow Day," "There's Something About Mary") and David Cross ("Waiting for Guffman, "Men in Black") join the cast and deliver okay takes in their respective roles, but don't create particularly memorably or classic characters.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the film's terrific opening, it's too bad that it ending up raising my and others' expectations so high about what would follow. Although it still delivers a number of funny, if gross, vulgar and/or politically incorrect bits, the fact that this cinematic hair doesn't live up to its start makes it come off just that much more disappointing. Accordingly, "Scary Movie 2" rates as a 5 out of 10, but much of that is simply for making me laugh harder that I've done in a long time, even if just for a few moments.

Reviewed July 2, 2001 / Posted July 4, 2001

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