The even numbers don’t favor the “Scary Movie” franchise. Inspiration ran dry for the Wayans Brothers in No. 2; now successors David Zucker & Co suffer gag fatigue following up their moderately improving efforts on the third installment. “Scary Movie 4” finds horror parody overshadowed by ho-hum groin blows, C-list celebrity cameos, slapstick child abuse, soon-to-be-forgotten hip-hop personalities, plus scatalogical and gay jokes; real laughs are few. Nonetheless, hardtop and ancillary coinage should be robust, with the horror genre’s continued high popularity clinching pic’s pre-sold lowbrow appeal.
After briefly getting Dr. Phil and Shaquille O’Neal into “Saw I’s” central predicament, then bringing back Charlie Sheen from “Scary 3” for a Viagra-impaired suicide, series star Anna Faris as dumb blonde Cindy Campbell gets a job as nursemaid to an infirm elderly woman (Cloris Leachman). Latter’s house is haunted by a malevolent ghost child a la “The Grudge.” But before she can dig too deeply into that mystery, Cindy gets distracted by the handsome neighbor next door, divorced and negligent working-class dad Tom Ryan (Craig Bierko). Then aliens attack, and Tom flees with the kids he’s semi-estranged from a la “War of the Worlds.”
Cindy, too, gets the hell outta town, picking up fellow series regular Regina Hall as randy Brenda Meeks (despite the fact she’s been killed in each prior “Scary”). They end up in a time-warped village like “The Village,” with Bill Pullman as William Hurt, Carmen Electra as Bryce Dallas Howard, and Chris Elliott as Adrien Brody.
Others who get more than a single scene include Leslie Nielsen as an idiot President and Michael Madsen as Tim Robbins’ “War” nutcase. James Earl Jones narrates.
There’s not a lot of satire left in these films. Most of the jokes are just references to other movies, or rote ow-my-head! slapstick violence, or a combination of both. Rarely is much fun had with genre conventions — as if that might be too sophisticated for an audience that finds humor enough in simply being reminded of the movies watched and songs heard since “Scary Movie 3.”
With so much depending on disposable pop-culture touchstones, the question is whether such features will have any entertainment value left when for example the word “Chingy” once again signifies … nothing.
Minus the closing credit crawl, and an epilogue sending up Tom Cruise’s Katie-lovin’ wigout on “Oprah,” “4” would scarcely nudge 75 minutes. Which is still about 70 minutes longer than it warrants. If Faris and Hall’s comic chops are barely exercised here, time is still on their side; one hopes someday they’ll get the stellar lead roles they deserve.
Still, it must be said that the production package is loud, pacey and colorful enough — decent CGI FX included — that a whole lotta not-much goes by with painless speed.