Scary Movie 4 is not actually a parody. Movie parody is a form of humor where the flaws and the logical inconsistencies in a film are wittily exposed and held up to ridicule. Merely putting slapstick and gross-out jokes in a setting that refers to other films does not qualify.
It’s not as though this latest in the series spoofing recent horror movies didn’t have promising material. The Grudge, War of the Worlds, Saw, and The Village, all deserve something beyond an occasional weak stab at puncturing their pretensions, and with a cast that includes Anna Faris and Regina Hall as well as Cloris Leachman and Leslie Nielsen, Scary Movie 4 could at least have been as fun a waste of time as Scary Movie 3.
But while there are a few mildly amusing jokes there isn’t much to indicate that the writers did more than watch the trailers of the films they are supposed to be spoofing. The only cast member who manages to inspire genuine laughs for an entire scene is Henry Mah as an employer desperately trying to conceal the malevolent ghost from The Grudge from a new hire. From there, it’s all downhill, and not because the movie becomes easier to watch. Anna Faris is reduced to a punching bag, the running “joke” being her getting clobbered by flying objects in every other scene, Hall’s single comedic note is her character’s promiscuity and worst of all, Cloris Leachman is quite literally given nothing to do but register numbed, supposedly hilarious reaction shots as a paralyzed woman being cared for by the incompetent Faris. Chris Elliott is simply a mystery. He’s capable of being very funny, so it’s unclear why he’s willing to reprise here his profoundly unfunny role in Scary Movie 2.
Incredibly, the screenplay even manages to refer to Brokeback Mountain, Million Dollar Baby, and George Bush listening to “My Pet Goat” without evoking a single real laugh. It’s almost as though the filmmakers were trying to frustrate and annoy horror fans, and it’s a hardy soul who will be willing to sit out the entire 123 minutes.
Additional cast members doing penance here include Anthony Anderson, James Earl Jones, Craig Bierko, Chingy, and Charlie Sheen. In spite of these talented people, the best that can be said of Scary Movie 4 is that it is not as bad as Scary Movie 2. And that’s certainly not for lack of trying.