[Deep Focus]
The magic of CGI.

Judging from the first sequence of Scary Movie, it looks like the boisterous pranksters who made this film (at the bidding of Scream franchise owner Miramax) may actually be onto something. The set piece, a near shot-for-shot recreation of the opening of Wes Craven's 1996 Scream (coincidentally, Scary Movie was Craven's working title), uses professional celebrity Carmen Electra to fire off a barrage of gags culminating in gratuitous slo-mo T&A and an instance of bloodletting that verges on the bizarre. It's a bit of base weirdness that successfully lampoons pop culture's uncomfortable notions of titillation in the context of a horror movie scenario. Not bad.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film eschews such glossy self-criticism in favor of conventional parody that relies on Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer for narrative momentum rather than mocking them outright. The joke about half-naked girls in peril would have been better aimed at the lecherous IKWYDLS than the nearly sex-free Scream films, but Scary Movie doesn't seem to know exactly what it's sending up.

Why target teen horror movies in the first place? The funniest bits of Scary Movie are generally the cheap shots, the sex-organ-and-body-fluid humor that's suddenly become de rigeur in summer comedies. (Several years ago, I predicted that the on-screen appearance of semen would be the next taboo to be busted in Hollywood films, and I'm glad to see that director Keenen Ivory Wayans has single-handedly obsoleted every other come shot in cinema history. What will they sneak past the MPAA next?) But one of the chief pleasures of parodies, even the dumb ones, is that they generally mix textual criticism of and affection for the films they're satirizing. Kentucky Fried Movie still makes me giggle, but it looks positively highbrow compared to Scary Movie's crass, scattershot technique. There's little pleasure in the jokey references to other films, generally because they're so labored and disconnected (what the hell is The Usual Suspects doing here?). And the performances are generally appealing, but not so's you'd notice them once the monotony sets in.

I'm tempted to write this off in the category of dumb fun, but I have to admit to finding some aspects troubling. As a fer-instance, the subplot involving one character's deep denial about his homosexuality might have been funny, if only crowd reaction hadn't demonstrated that being gay is still considered a lot more revolting than, say, having a silicone breast implant plucked out of your chest. No surprise, I guess, that while real horror movies have a history of exploring and humanizing the world's outsiders (think Frankenstein, Freaks, and almost anything by David Cronenberg), this spoof gets its yucks by staging a death tableau that mimics male-on-male rear entry. Come on, can't we do better than this? Scary Movie offers some chuckles, but its blockbuster box-office take makes it a fairly depressing example of lowest-common-demoninator gag-mongering.

Directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans

USA, 2000

Theatrical aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Screened at Loews Village VII, New York, NY

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