The Sick Sense

What's truly frightening about Scary Movie is that parts of it are funny.

Scary Movie
Breast of friends: Victim-to-be Shannon Elizabeth (center) with Anna Faris and Regina Hall.
Breast of friends: Victim-to-be Shannon Elizabeth (center) with Anna Faris and Regina Hall.
Is there a more bankrupt genre than the parody movie? So many movies nowadays are so painfully self-aware and referential anyway that there often isn't much left to make fun of, which is especially the case for Kevin Williamson-penned films like Scream and its clones, clichéd teen slasher movies that were regarded as hip simply because the characters would point out the clichés shortly before they occurred. Surely making fun of Williamson's insufferably hip dialogue would result in even more insufferable parody, and the trailers for Scary Movie gave no reason to hope for anything better, with its brain-dead restaging of scenes from The Sixth Sense, The Blair Witch Project, and so on. Reenactments, in and of themselves, just aren't inherently funny. You've got to subvert the scene somehow. The Zucker brothers understood this, but the makers of such pale imitations as Spy Hard and Mafia! didn't seem to.

As for Scary Movie director Keenen Ivory Wayans, he certainly used to be adept at parody, what with In Living Color and I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, but it's been awhile since we've heard from him, and A Low Down Dirty Shame didn't give us much reason for hope.

Surprise! Scary Movie is no classic by any means, and you'll probably have forgotten all about it in a few months, but it's actually quite amusing, thanks mainly to a script that keeps the gags flying so fast that, even though so many of them are bad, they're quickly followed by something new -- and occasionally something good. Turns out the poorly edited trailer omits all the punch lines: Marlon Wayans only says "I see dead people" because he's just taken a hit of the most powerful ganja known to man, while the Cheri Oteri Blair Witch parody proceeds to levels of grossness that you just can't show on TV. The Wayans brothers -- director Keenen and screenwriters Shawn and Marlon -- have upped the ante on sheer tastelessness: They do things here that even the Farrelly brothers haven't thought of, and just the shock value of some of it is likely to provoke laughs. The opening sequence, for instance, featuring Carmen Electra in a parody of the Drew Barrymore scene from Scream, not only makes a low-blow joke about Electra's real-life former fling with Prince, but culminates in her being stabbed in the breast, having the killer inadvertently yanking out her silicone implant, and then her getting run over by her father's car because Dad's too busy receiving a blowjob to look where he's going. And that isn't even close to the most potentially offensive stuff on parade.

The plot is mostly a specific parody of Scream and its sequels, with a bit of I Know What You Did Last Summer thrown in for good measure. Once again, a killer in a black robe is making prank phone calls to teens and killing them, and the only person who seems to know what's going on is Cindy, played by newcomer Anna Faris, who has her Neve Campbell/Jennifer Love Hewitt/Katie Holmes pouts down pat. The killer has to be someone close to her, but who? Her amusingly Freddie Prinze Jr.-like boyfriend (Jon Abrahams)? His serious closet case of a best friend (Shawn Wayans)? The beauty queen (Shannon Elizabeth, the one who got naked in American Pie)? Acerbic reporter Gail Hailstorm (Cheri Oteri), author of the book You're Dead, I'm Rich? Or sweet-yet-slow-witted Deputy Doofy (Dave Sheridan, in the film's standout role)? As in the Scream movies, it doesn't really matter who the killer is, because there's no possible way to figure it out: The unmasked killer finally acknowledges that the story and motive make no sense, but asks how they could, since the movies being spoofed don't either.

What Wayans brings to this film as director, unsurprisingly, is enough of a racial element to make one realize just how white Williamson's films were, although many of the race jokes are likely to be controversial. One of the news crews sent to cover the murders, for instance, is from a black-run channel, and they sum things up thusly: "Reportin' live for Black TV: White folks are dead, we gettin' the fuck outta here!" In place of Jamie Kennedy's film geek, we get pothead Marlon Wayans, who also appears to be spoofing comedian Chris Tucker's typical high-pitched delivery and delivers the rules of surviving the movie to a security camera while robbing a liquor store. The sole black contestant in a beauty pageant sports a banner reading "Miss Thing" and dreadlock-braided pubic hair. And a black woman is stabbed to death by an irate white movie audience for yelling at the screen during Shakespeare in Love. Of course, if Williamson had tried anything like this, he'd have been crucified: There's a gag about eating fried chicken that it's hard to imagine even the Wayanses finding funny.

Not that black groups are the only ones likely to protest: There are plenty of cheap laughs about Shawn Wayans's character possibly being gay, women with body hair, transgenders, the handicapped, and more. Wonder how a parody of David Arquette could possibly be more offensive than Arquette himself has become? Dave Sheridan wickedly portrays Deputy Doofy as mentally retarded, with a penchant for having sex with his vacuum cleaner. And let's not forget the large number of male genitalia on display (no woman takes her clothes off, but Shawn Wayans gets impaled through the head with a large, erect penis).

To give away any more would detract from the shock value of the film's more audacious moments. Suffice to say that Scary Movie slightly exceeds the admittedly limited expectations one might have for it and even manages to be mildly clever once or twice (a reference to The Usual Suspects is particularly nice). Keenen Ivory Wayans isn't the comedic genius he used to be, but it's good to know he hasn't completely lost his touch.

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