You've got to hand it to the Zucker Brothers -- few filmmakers could create a whole new genre of comedy with just one movie. But that's precisely what they achieved with 'Airplane!,' the duo's 1980 now-classic farce that lampooned not only the silliest excesses of '70s disaster movies but just about every pop culture fad and fashion of the time. Sure, 'Airplane!' was not the first slapstick movie ever made, whether it be the Three Stooges or the underrated, overlooked 'Kentucky Fried Movie' (1977, also co-written by the Zuckers), but it wasn't until 'Airplane!' scored such a blockbuster success that the modern spoof movie truly achieved critical mass.
Though the Zuckers (that's David and Jerry), along with their frequent co-writer and co-director Jim Abrahams, don't really work together anymore as a trio, they've pretty much been mining the same spoof turnip ever since, on such hits as 'Top Secret,' 'The Naked Gun' and 'Hot Shots.' David Zucker has perhaps been the most prolific, especially since he has now taken over the 'Scary Movie' franchise after the Wayans Brothers (what's with all these sibling comedy teams?) left the series after the first sequel. Watching Zucker's 'Scary Movie 4,' it is like absolutely no time has passed since 'Airplane!' The cinematic target may be different -- horror films instead of airport disaster movies -- but the jokes, the tone, the slapstick, it's all the same.
The 'Scary Movie' movies don't really have a plot per se, so they live and die by the jokes. Predictably, 'Scary Movie 4' is pretty hit-or-miss. Far less ribald and vulgar than the Wayans, Zucker keeps the humor comfortably within the zone of PG-13 (note that this HD DVD presents 'Scary Movie 4' in an "Unrated and Uncensored" version, though aside from a few tasty zingers for Leslie Nielsen and the like, it would hardly warrant an R rating). Zucker also quickly runs out of horror movies to lampoon -- we get the expected assortment of 'Grudge,' 'Saw' and M. Night Shyamalan parodies, but also take-offs on 'Brokeback Mountain,' 'Million Dollar Baby' and even Tom Cruise's couch-hopping on "Oprah."
Some of this stuff is indeed funny. I laughed heartily at the more clever gags, from an amusing dialogue between Anna Faris and that little ghoul kid from 'The Grudge' done entirely in the names of Japanese electronics manufacturers, and a hideous press conference striptease by longtime Zucker stalwart Leslie Nielsen. But I groaned just as equally at the ton of lame one-liners, and relentless over-mugging by much of the cast (particularly co-lead Craig Bierko, who somehow manages to make Simon Rex seem like Buster Keaton).
If the 'Scary Movie' franchise has one ace in the hole, however, it is Faris. She has somehow managed to keep utter stupidity endearing for four movies now, which is no small feat. Her wry delivery makes even the most obvious visual and verbal gags seem lively and inspired. I only wish the writing and direction were up to her level of knowing wit and enthusiasm. Still, it is hard to hate a movie this silly. And we certainly need more stupid comedy in the vein of 'Airplane!' -- the world would be a sadder place without it. Is 'Scary Movie 4' a great comedy, or even a great 'Scary Movie?' Heck no. But did I still laugh a lot? You bet.
It is always exciting when a new studio jumps onboard the high-def bandwagon, and 'Scary Movie 4' is one of four HD DVD launch titles from Genius Products, the home video distribution arm of The Weinstein Company. It is the first one I reviewed, and so I decided to play a little experiment and not check out the codec before reviewing -- why predispose myself? Turns out it only took me a few minutes to guess either MPEG-2 or MPEG-4. And I was on the right track. 'Scary Movie 4' is presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video transfer. That makes it a rather lonely orphan among the growing HD DVD library, for there are only two other MPEG-4 releases I've seen thus far on the format, Paramount's 'U2: Rattle and Hum' and Universal's 'The Interpreter.'
I tend to find that the VC-1 codec delivers images that are a bit smoother in appearance, nice and bright and with good detail in the shadows. I guessed MPEG for 'Scary Movie 4' because immediately it had a coarser look. The source material looks great and blacks are rock solid, but contrast is harsh with steep fall-off into black. Colors, while well saturated, tend to look somewhat artificial. Skintones have that painted-on, too-orange cast. There is also some consistent noise on the heaviest hues, though it is pretty meager and not particularly distracting. Granted, despite such faults there is still a fine amount of detail to the transfer and brighter scenes give off the impression of dimensionality. Overall, 'Scary Movie 4' is a good first effort from Genius, though I can't say that I am blown away.
Though only labeled as "Dolby 5.1" on the back packaging, 'Scary Movie 4' also contains a full-blown Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track. Not that it helps much, though -- 'Scary Movie 4' just isn't that exciting a flick aurally, with a surprising lack of surround oomph.
The rears are rarely active. I liked some of the zippy front-to-back pans during the early alien attack sequence (a la 'War of the Worlds') but that's about it as far as envelopment goes. Tech specs, however, are up to snuff. Dynamics are solid and low bass is punchy enough. Dialogue is the most important thing, and that comes through nicely. Even some of the more mannered line deliveries are clear and distinct, and I suppose any soundtrack deserves points for making the ever-more-mumbly Leslie Nielsen intelligible. God bless him.
One thing is for sure about David Zucker -- the guy has a sense of humor. That may seem obvious, but it remains amazing how many comedy filmmakers are sourpusses, who seem as if making people laugh for a living is more painful than pulling teeth. But if the extras on 'Scary Movie 4' are any indication, it makes perfect sense why so many big Hollywood actors do these kinds of movies with Zucker -- because they actually have a good time.
Zucker is all over this disc's extras, beginning with his audio commentary with producers Robert Weiss and Craig Mazin. After suffering through Ron Howard's dull-as-dishwater track for 'Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas' last night, this one was a real relief. Zucker, Weiss and Mazin take nothing too seriously, least of all the horror movies they are lampooning. Zucker freely admits that it is his "least favorite genre," yet he's grateful for all the spoof material it gives him. I can't say I learned much about the making of 'Scary Movie 4' beyond the obvious (Anna Faris is fantastic, many of the jokes were developed or improvised on-set, etc.), though some may be surprised at how little spontaneity the more effects-heavy scenes allow, as Zucker illuminates with the many 'War of the Worlds' parodies. Is this a must-listen track? Maybe not. But it is a lot of fun.
Zucker, Weiss and Mazin also offer additional commentary for the 15 Deleted Scenes. Note that there are seven more minutes of material here then seen on the standard-def DVD release of the theatrical version, and highlights include Craig Bierko doing his best Tom Cruise and crawling up Oprah's dress, and Leslie Nielsen, as George Bush, shredding the Declaration of Independence. Not exactly subtle, but some worthy chuckles to be had. Which is more than I can say for the actual "Bloopers Reel," which is surprisingly unfunny. Perhaps that's because non-thespians Dr. Phil and Shaquille O'Neal get the most giggle time? And there is also a brief "Improvisation of Craig Bierko" vignette, which is just more of the actor riffing on Cruise. Trust me, the best stuff made the movie.
There are a wealth of additional featurettes, but they are all so short (never stretching more than three minutes or so) and culled from the same batch of material that it might as well be one mini-making-of. "The Scary Truth -- A Conversation with the Filmmakers" is your basic series of EPK interviews, all goofy. "The Cast" is more of the same. "The Man Behind the Laugh" profiles Zucker, who, we learn from the cast, has quite the distinctive guffaw. While "Zany, Spoof Humor Zucker Style" and 'The Visual Effects of 'Scary Movie 4'" go slightly in-depth into the Zucker brand of high-concept, gag-driven humor that sometimes proves tricky when special effects are involved.
Rounding it out are two complete throwaway featurettes. "The Youngbloodz" profiles the Atlanta rappers and how thrilled they were to be in a 'Scary Movie.' "An Interviewer's Worst Nightmare" is a nearly incomprehensible, staged bit with select cast explaining what questions not to ask should you ever interview a 'Scary Movie' alumni. Totally skippable.
Last but not least is the film's theatrical trailer. Nice to see Genius isn't leaving these off their HD DVD releases.
'Scary Movie 4' is a review-proof movie. More a series of gags than a story, it lives and dies by its jokes, but there are enough hits here that it's worth giving a rent. Was I blown away? No. But as one of Genius' debut HD DVD titles, it's a pretty good start -- good transfer and soundtrack, plus tons of extras. I also have to applaud Genius for giving us the Unrated version of the movie.