Sequels are almost always a case of diminishing returns. With each installment, creativity diminishes, box office falls and returning actors salaries increase. So why do the studios continue to make them? A "2" or "3" will attract a certain number of people, guaranteeing a predictable amount of box office, therefore sequels are safer bets. And that is a sad, sad truth preventing a lot of potentially great films from an audience. Yes, there are sequels that are better than the original, but they are few and far between.
Then there is the "Scary Movie" franchise. Remarkably consistent at the box office, and no doubt fairly inexpensive to produce, Dimension Films has just released "4".
A little history before we begin: "Scary Movie", directed by Keenan Ivory Wayans, starring Anna Faris, Shawn Wayans and Marlon Wayans is basically an excuse for a series of gags and parodies based on popular horror films. "Scary Movie" is also a parody of the same studios "Scream" franchise, which is fairly brilliant in a way. Capture the same audience twice, once for screams, the second for laughs. "Movie" made a lot of money and caused the inevitable sequel. "2" was not as funny, but still made a lot of money. Either Keenan Ivory Wayans wanted a lot of money or the studio realized "2" was lacking (I suspect the former) because David Zucker (part of the "Airplane" and "Police Squad" team) was brought in to helm "3". Ready to give up on the series, I gave "3" a try because of Zucker and I was pleasantly surprised. It was funny. Expanding the scope to include sci-fi ("Signs") and superheroes ("X-Men") and adding Leslie Nielsen to the cast proved to be the right move. Now, we have "4", directed by David Zucker and starring Anna Faris and Leslie Nielsen, with cameos by Charlie Sheen, Anthony Anderson, Bill Pullman and others.
The "Scary Movie" series exists for no other reason than to make the audience laugh. Using the same formula, a series of gags and parodies are held together by the smallest thread of a plot. The success of these films is determined by how much and how often we laugh. "4" caused me to chuckle a bit, but the outrageous belly laughs weren't there. Some of the parodies fall completely flat, which is to be expected, but when there are no great laughs to compensate, the problems really stand out. Many of the parodies also take the safe route, leading to easy, expected laughs. In short, "4" doesn't deliver.
Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris) takes a job caring for an elderly, catatonic woman (Cloris Leachman). She soon believes the house to be haunted by a little Japanese boy who makes cat-like sounds. She meets the next door neighbor, Tom Ryan (Craig Bierko) and there is an instant attraction. Tom is a dockworker who has his two kids for the weekend and they are none too happy to be stuck in their dad's dingy one-bedroom apartment. This is also the same weekend Aliens attack. Cindy sets off to find out who killed the little boy and Tom begins a journey to get his kids to safety. They promise to meet up and live the rest of their lives happily together.
If the description you have just read sounds a lot like "War of The Worlds" combined with "The Grudge", you are correct. The two stories combined provide the backdrop for all of the parodies and jokes. A prologue featuring Shaquille O'Neal and Dr. Phil McGraw outwitting the villain from "Saw" provides an amusing tone to start the film. But as the film continues, the humor becomes much more hit and miss. The funniest bit involves Carmen Electra playing the blind girl from "The Village". Because this bit is based on scatological humor, you begin to get an idea of the level of laughs you should expect. Not that there is anything wrong with a little gross out humor. But when it is all there is, something is wrong. Clouds look like they are farting lightning, a sponge bath is given from a dirty bed pan. You get the idea.
These films owe a lot to director M. Night Shyamalan. All of his films have been made fun of in one or more of the installments. I guess "5" will have a parody of Shyamalan's new film about mermaids, "Lady in the Water".
They even manage to work in jokes about "Brokeback Mountain", "Million Dollar Baby" (amusing) and "Hustle and Flow". The "Hustle" reference is so quick it leads me to believe even the filmmakers knew it wasn't going to work. When you see what they left in, you will realize just how bad this parody is and imagine how bad something must have been to be cut. Boggles the mind. Where was the take-off on "King Kong"? He is clearly featured in the newspaper ads, yet I didn't see him.
Many of the jokes also take the safe route. A parody of Tom Cruise's appearance on "Oprah" could have been brilliant, but doesn't really do anything new with the joke except to recreate the appearance in an exaggerated way. The "Brokeback Mountain" gag plays it safe as well. There is so much they could've done, so many possibilities.
One of the best things about the "Movie" series is how good the actual parodies look. Each joke seems as though it was shot on the same set as the actual film, using the same props, special effects, production design. The tripods and Tom Cruise's neighborhood from "War of the Worlds" appear to have been teleported into the new comedy. The little boy from "The Grudge" made a wrong turn in a closet somewhere and ended up here. Throughout the series, this is the one area which remains consistent. Either the filmmakers spent a lot of time copying the look and feel of the other film, or the original filmmakers provided assistance to the "Scary Movie" teams, helping them to get everything very close. I imagine it was a combination of both.