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Scary Movie   C

Dimension Films

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Keenan Ivory Wayans
Writers: Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Buddy Johnson, Phil Beauman, Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer
Cast: Anna Faris, Shannon Elizabeth, Marlon Wayans, Shawn Wayans, John Abrahams, Regina Hall, Carmen Electra, Dave Sheridan, Cheri Oteri.

Review by Mike Bracken

Is it just me, or does a parody of the 90's style of slasher film seem essentially unnecessary? We've already had the Scream films, movies that were high-wire balancing acts between deconstructionist slasher parody and horror film homage with their violent deaths and characters who were intimately familiar with both the other films in the canon and the rules of surviving such events -- isn't that enough? Apparently not, I decided as I wandered into the local multiplex this morning to catch a screening of Dimension film's latest attempt to cash in on the craze they helped start, Scary Movie -- which is sort of the Naked Gun of the horror genre.

The film really doesn't have much of a plot, and what is there is basically a rehashing of other popular films -- most notably a blending of the story elements of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris: Lovers Lane) is your typical teenager -- she's got a boyfriend, two girlfriends (Buffy: Shannon Elizabeth; and Brenda: Regina Hall) and their boyfriends (including Shawn Wayans) in her social circle. However, when they accidentally hit a fisherman who's walking along a dark and windy road, they decide that they must dump his body in the ocean rather than face potential manslaughter charges for their actions (of course, the kicker is, the guy's not actually dead after they hit him).

They all vow to keep the secret -- but someone has found out about their evil deed, and is now sending them notes telling them that he knows what they did last Halloween and killing them off one by one -- all while making a lot of sex jokes, parodying horror films like The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense, and mainstream fare like The Matrix and The Usual Suspects.

I didn't really expect to like this film going into it, but the fact that it was directed by none other than Keenan Ivory Wayans (who made the classic parody of the blaxploitation film, I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka) made it worth at least a look. And while it fails to live up to Wayans' earlier film, Scary Movie does have a few amusing moments interspersed throughout its hour and half running time. Many of the gags here vacillate between either being juvenile (the repeated use of jokes about Shawn Wayans being gay, brother Marlon being a pothead, or the bodily function stuff) or predictable (various riffs on Scream's setpieces and dialogue), but a few actually manage to work. In one sequence, we see Cindy being chased up the stairs by Ghostface...in order to slow down his progress, she throws stuff into his path -- including her grandmother and a giant piano. Ok, so it plays better on the screen than in the review...it's still an amusing moment.

Of course, picking on a film like this for being stupid seems to indicate that the reviewer missed the point. The film is supposed to be stupid -- just like all the other parody films out there. Still, there's a difference between being obviously stupid and cleverly stupid (can something be cleverly stupid? I suppose so) -- and I find that Scary Movie spends much of its time straddling the line between the two. For every great gag, there's at least three that don't work quite as well as you'd hope -- but at least it's all fairly well balanced with the funny moments (like Carmen Electra getting stabbed in her breast implant, The Matrix-style fight scene, and The Usual Suspects riff) all happening at different parts of the narrative.

Generally, these kinds of films are hard to review -- they're simply not serious movies, and a lot of times, they're bad on purpose. You can't comment on the acting, because everyone's trying to do a bad job and imitate a character from another film. You can't really comment on the plot, because all the plot is used for is as a means to get from one gag to the next. About the only way to gauge whether they're successful or not is based on the quality of the gags -- so, using that as a guide, I found Scary Movie to be something of a mixed bag. Yes, it has some laughably funny moments, but it also has more than a few out and out groaners as well (including the Gale Weathers-style character's name -- Gale Hailstorm...ho-ho-ho). Of course, I did find myself laughing at this film far more often than I did the abominably awful Me, Myself, and Irene.

In the end, if you're one of those people who likes horror parodies, the Naked Gun and Airplane films, or the 90s horror films that this movie is parodying, then Scary Movie is probably worth a look. It's crass and juvenile, but it has its moments. However, if pot jokes, gay jokes, or a guy getting stabbed through a head with a penis is distasteful to you, then I'd recommend taking a pass on this one. You make the call.

Review published 07.28.2000.

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