Thursday, April 13, 2006

If the creatively spent “Scary Movie” franchise must go on, who better to carry the flickering torch than “Airplane’s” David Zucker?

Of course, we mean David Zucker circa the 1980s, fresh from directing both the aforementioned farce and the first of three “Naked Gun” films.

Today, the Zucker label means the cheapest of parodies — slapdash affairs with only dim reminders of the director’s past glory.

“Scary Movie 4,” Mr. Zucker’s second whack at the series created by Keenen Ivory Wayans, can’t even reach the 80-minute mark without an unnecessary jab at Tom Cruise’s couch-hopping ways.

Series mainstay Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris, channeling the young Julie Hagerty) returns, and here she’s starting a new life as a live-in nurse. She lands a job overseeing a catatonic elderly woman (Cloris Leachman) in a home straight out of “The Grudge.”

Next door, as luck would have it, lives a construction worker named Tom (Craig Bierko) patterned after Mr. Cruise’s no-account father figure in “War of the Worlds.”

The two somehow fall in love while being chased by aliens, a pale-faced Asian child and the puppet villain from “Saw.”

The parodies may be cheap, but the film mirrors its source material with considerable finesse, especially during its special-effects sequences.

For anyone who hasn’t hit the multiplex in a couple of years, nothing in “Scary Movie 4” will make much sense. Everyone else will wonder why the filmmakers can’t stick to one genre — witness a lame “Brokeback Mountain” segue and a plot device swiped from “Million Dollar Baby.”

Script writers Jim Abrahams, a regular collaborator with Mr. Zucker, and Craig Mazin fuse the two main stories competently enough but can’t resist those awkward asides — and an avalanche of excretory humor.

The best detour riffs on “The Village” and lets Regina Hall swipe a few laughs as Cindy’s sexually charged pal Brenda.

Zucker favorite Leslie Nielsen outdoes Michael Moore with a funny set piece involving the president reading to schoolchildren during an attack on the country. Charlie Sheen spoofs his own Lothario image in the film’s opening moments.

“Scary Movie 4” packs enough good gags to fill a trailer, and sadly that’s all the franchise may need to spark a fifth “Movie.”


TITLE: “Scary Movie 4”

RATING: PG:13 (Adult language, sexually suggestive material and frequent excretory humor)

CREDITS: Directed by David Zucker. Written by Jim Abrahams and Craig Mazin.

RUNNING TIME: 83 minutes



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