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Entries in Scary Movie 5 [2013] (1)

Monday
Apr152013

Scary Movie 5 (2013)

What Possessed Them?

I haven't watched Scary Movie in years, but I remember liking it a lot. In the same way Scream salvaged the horror wasteland that was the 1990s, the Wayans Brothers' hard-R slasher send-up proved that parody movies hadn't died with The Naked Gun 33 1/3 or National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1. The film succeeded, in part, by setting its sights on Scream and its most popular clone, I Know What You Did Last Summer--thereby brilliantly deconstructing horror movies and movies that deconstruct horror movies.

As Scary Movie became a bona fide franchise, the sequels' targets grew increasingly scattershot: perhaps the filmmakers didn't realize they were living through a torture porn craze, but they certainly missed the mark by making 8 Mile and Spielberg's War of the Worlds the low-grade fuel in their clunky money machine. Consistent with the ebb and flow of its root genre, the series fizzled out in 2006, and has now been resurrected at a time when horror appears to have come (briefly, I'm sure) back in vogue.

Understand this: there's nothing wrong with making a Scary Movie 5. In fact, there's no better time for it. With odd blockbusters like Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and The Devil Inside, not to mention an undead army's worth of remakes stinking up the box office, there's more than enough material for the right team to make a hilarious commentary on our bloody, sad state of affairs. The key term in that rambling mess of a sentence is, of course, "the right team".

If I told you that the writers behind Airplane!, Real Genius, and the first Naked Gun were responsible for Scary Movie 5, would you give it a chance?

I definitely would have, but I went into the theatre unaware that David Zucker and Pat Proft had anything to do with this production. Aside from a few out-of-place (i.e. funny) moments, there's nothing on screen to suggest this was written by anyone but fans of Zucker and Proft's classic comedies who have no idea what makes them work.

The framing device this time out is Paranormal Activity. Dan (Simon Rex) and Jody (Ashley Tisdale) move into a house after the previous occupants (Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan) are attacked by supernatural beings. Almost immediately, the story splits off into a parody of Mama, as the couple adopts Sheen's three feral children--who are also accompanied by a ghost. Bring on the sped-up-surveillance-camera gags and ultra-religious-but-nastily-sexual-Mexican-maid jokes!

Had Zucker, Proft, and director Malcom D. Lee stuck to skewering only these films, Scary Movie 5 might have amounted to something. Instead, we learn that Dan works as a geneticist and Jody is an aspiring ballet dancer--which plummets us down the rabbit hole of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Black Swan parodies. We're also treated to a 50 Shades of Grey bit starring Jerry O'Connell and Mike Tyson; random appearances by a Madea-type character; and interludes featuring two stoners who stumble upon a cabin in the woods (one of whom is played by Snoop "It's Snoop Lion Now" Dogg).

The freshest ingredient in this mess is the Black Swan portion--thanks to J.P. Manoux's cartoonish take on Vincent Cassel's aggressive dance instructor character and a neat twist on the train-entering-the-tunnel metaphor (tweaked to interpret lesbian sex as a raunchy, giggle-worthy montage of silliness). But Black Swan came out three years ago. Are teenagers really clamoring for over-the-hill ballerina gags involving Molly Shannon and Heather Locklear?

It's especially confusing, given the movie's strongest, most surprising detour: a sharp takedown of the Evil Dead remake. With such a fresh release, I'm guessing either Lee and company saw a rough-cut or they're simply prescient and astute enough to predict the innumerable ways in which Fede Alvarez's cloning experiment would fail. The setup is Bugs-Bunny thin and finds Jody and rival dancer Kendra (Erica Ash) in a cabin basement reading from the Book of the Dead while a group of Christian teenagers conduct a Bible study upstairs. The book contains a powerful possession spell, as well as a "safe word" to instantly call off the demons. We cut between the clueless girls downstairs and the gang upstairs as they are alternately compelled to sever limbs and collapse in crying, confused heaps every few minutes.

In execution, if not in concept, this works very well. It helps that Bow Wow, Katrina Bowden, and Sarah Hyland, three young actors whose acting chops shine through their "It Kid" sheen, are so much fun to watch. I was also surprised at how effectively Lee re-created the look and feel of Raimi's Evil Dead movies. He clearly understands them in a way that Alvarez does not, and I was more entertained and surprised by his five-minute spoof than by any of the "legit" remake's ninety torturous minutes.

Another thing Scary Movie 5 has going for it is, I guess, a meta observation that will mean little to people who don't consider movies in the greater pop context.* Ashley Tisdale, a former Disney star, transitions from High School Musical teen sensation to a genuine comedic actress here. In the same way Anna Faris rose above the (admittedly stronger) material of the first Scary Movie, Tisdale proves to be more than just a pretty face. Whether that's due to real chops, competent direction (stop laughing), or the fact that Simon Rex is such an affable non-presence remains to be seen. Whatever the case, I'm curious to see where the actress goes next.

The meta part comes in the form of a question: Is Tisdale choosing this role as her grown-up break-out any less dignified than her HSM co-star Vanessa Hudgens' signing on for the boobs-and-bullets snooze-fest, Spring Breakers? I argue that Tisdale took the high road, demonstrating talents that may actually take her places, rather than relying on the shock value of a child star swearing, disrobing, and pretending to murder people to book more gigs.

(If you're keeping score, yes, I just implied that Scary Movie 5 is a better film than Spring Breakers.)

I can't recommend Scary Movie 5 as a straight-up entertainment experience. But there's a lot going on here that people who love movies can sink their teeth into. Why do these fifteen gags fail where this one succeeds? Are the movie's once-great writers truly past their prime, or simply at the mercy of executives demanding that they appeal to brain-dead, fart-joke-loving teenagers? How can a film be so cryogenically frozen, pop-culturally, that it thinks audiences will give a shit about unfunny Inception gags--and yet nail the problems from a movie that came out a week before its own release?

No one else is likely to recommend a tired fourth sequel so hampered by its PG-13 rating that half the dialogue appears to have been clumsily ADR'd. But I'll go out on a limb and say you should give this thing a whirl-- for reasons that have nothing to do with watching an actual comedy. In fact, wait for Redbox or Netflix. We don't want anyone getting ideas about setting Scary Movie 6 in motion.

Note: Much of Scary Movie 5's promotional features scenes from Lindsay Lohan's three-minute opening cameo, in which she plays herself. I'm all for self-parody, but it's hard to laugh at a pre-recovery alcoholic drug addict who carries on as if those demons were exorcised years ago. The movie kicks off on an extremely distasteful note; fortunately, it's salvaged by tons of lame, grade-school dick jokes. 

*Hear that? It's the Pretension Alarm!