Screenplay : Shawn Wayans & Marlon Wayans & Buddy Johnson & Phil Beauman and Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Anna Faris (Cindy Campbell), Shannon Elizabeth (Buffy Gilmore), Cheri Oteri (Gale Hailstorm), Marlon Wayans (Randy), Shawn Wayans (Ray), Dave Sheridan (Doofy), Carmen Electra (Drew Becker), David L. Lander (Principal Squiggy)
There are two main questions that might be raised by the horror parody "Scary Movie": First, why did it take this long for someone to spoof the slasher genre? (After all, '70s disaster films had been around for less than 10 years before the team of Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker took them apart in "Airplane!," while slasher films as a recognizable genre have been clunking around for more than two decades.) And, second, did it really require six screenwriters to tack tasteless jokes onto Kevin Williamson's "Scream" screenplay for less than an hour and a half?
To answer the first question, "Scary Movie" is more of a spoof of the recent, Kevin Williamson-inspired slasher movies like the "Scream" trilogy (1996-2000) and "I Know What You Did Last Summer" (1997). In fact, the film's original (and, in my opinion, better) title was "Scream if You Know What I Did Last Halloween." There are no real shots taken at "Friday the 13th" (1980) or "Halloween" (1978) or "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984)--the "classics" of the slasher genre. No, this is a purely '90s spoof.
The answer to the second question--why it took six screenwriters to come up with less than 90 minutes of material--is still a mystery. The primary writers are brothers Shawn and Marlon Wayans, who also were the guiding force behind the ghetto spoof "Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood" (1996). Their other brother, Keenan Ivory Wayans, who created "In Living Color" in the early '90s, directed the film. Taken together, the Wayans brothers can all be very funny, and some of their early work on "In Living Color" was truly groundbreaking comedy in the way it went after racial and social-class humor that other sketch shows like "Saturday Night Live" generally stayed away from.
"Scary Movie" is yet another entry into the "You're Gross But I Can Be Grosser" sweepstakes. Attempting to out-offend the Farrelly Brothers, the Wayans' keep piling on the potentially offensive humor, from outrageous sight gags like a literal geyser of semen and a woman having her breast implant stabbed out of her chest, to an onslaught of gay jokes and racial stereotypes.
Of course, the movie is often funny. Sometimes, very funny. Yet, it feels like it's straining at the edges. With a movie like this, the jokes are always hit and miss because they never really stop. There's not much in the way of breathing room except when the jokes misfire. This happens in a particularly long-feeling sequence that is meant to mock the slow-motion theatrics of "The Matrix" (1998). While it looked funny in the previews, the extended scene loses its laugh appeal quickly.
This might be a case of overanalyzing, but I think what distinguishes truly hysterical spoofs like "Airplane!" (1980) and "The Naked Gun" (1988) from simply funny spoofs like "Scary Movie" are the quality of the characters. The characters in "Scary Movie" are not much more than props for the jokes; they're completely unmemorable and never strike us in any meaningful way.
The characters in "Airplane!," on the other hand, are memorable. Yes, they are used constantly as props for jokes, but there was something in the performances by Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty that made them feel like real human beings trapped in an insane alternate universe of sight gags and pratfalls. Even after all the humor, there was still a nagging desire to see a cornball scene in which they get back together at the end of the film. The same goes for Leslie Nielsen's Lt. Frank Drebin in "The Naked Gun": As silly and ridiculous as he was, Lt. Drebin was an undeniably lovable creation.
The same cannot be said for any of the characters in "Scary Movie." As played by relative newcomers like Anna Faris and Shannon Elizabeth, there is nothing unique or interesting about them, either in how they're written or performed. Old hats like "SNL's" Cheri Oteri (who plays an obnoxious TV journalist) and Marlon Wayans (who plays a stoned teenager, a sort of African-American version of Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli) give the movie a little more life, but they are not quite enough to take the humor to the next level where it might be remembered the morning after.
©2000 James Kendrick