Keenen Ivory Wayans’ latest venture into low-budget, high-camp cinema is called Scary Movie. That title is a fallacy on two counts.
This picture isn’t scary, nor is it much of a movie. It is, however, quite funny. Wayans—the eclectic auteur behind everything from the television series In Living Color to action flicks like A Low-Down Dirty Shame—has made a broad, all-encompassing parody of horror films, the teen-oriented genre films of the last half-decade and just about every hit film of the last 15 years.
Spoofs like these rise and fall on the quality and frequency of their jokes, and that’s where Wayans succeeds. Scary Movie has a negligible plot, but is packed to the gills with frequently offensive, frequently hilarious jokes that never stop coming—and never stop pushing the R rating to new elasticity.
The plot essentially crosses the original Scream with I Know What You Did Last Summer, but there are plenty of detours along the way. Leading the show is Cindy (newcomer Anna Faris), the Neve-ish teen protagonist, and Bobby (Jon Abrahams), her boyfriend who’s trying to render invalid Cindy’s actual certificate of virginity.
There’s also glamorous couple Buffy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Greg (Lochlyn Munro), and the two most consistently funny characters, ambiguously gay football star Ray (Shawn Wayans) and his girlfriend Brenda (Regina Hall), who talks too much at the movies. Several additional characters—Brenda’s comic-relief-in-a-comedy brother Shorty (Marlon Wayans), for instance—also come under danger when a hooded killer terrorizes small-town B.A. Corpse High School. The killer wears a mask that looks a whole lot like the one the killer wore in Scream, but also has a hook for a hand like the vengeful fisherman in Last Summer.
Faris is an entertainingly fresh face, and though she plays the straight man for much of the film, doesn’t get buried by the avalanche of offbeat characters thrown at her. Marlon Wayans is in top form, as is Saturday Night Live’s Cheri Oteri as Gail Hailstorm, a take on Courteney Cox’s Scream character.
The jokes begin when the three couples receive notes reminding them of what happened last summer, triggering a series of flashbacks. Most of them involve sex in some way, and the gags—from a hermaphrodite gym instructor to all manner of bodily fluids—flow easily in the early going. The film flags only briefly in the middle, but gathers enough momentum to finish strong and clever.
These proceedings are entirely shameless and remarkably crass, but good-naturedly so. The Wayans brothers, who led the army of writers on the film, have a remarkable ear for delivery. Like In Living Color, the film displays older brother Keenen’s impeccable comic timing and his ear for a sophisticated, satirical joke that even the 14-year-old who sneaked into the theater can understand.
Unfortunately, like Mike Myers, the Wayans brothers can’t find a cultural reference so temporary that they can’t make fun of it. Just like audiences 10 years from now will wonder what the hell Fat Bastard was talking about when he sings the song from those Chili’s commercials, Scary Movie’s reference to the Budweiser Whassup? guys has a shelf life of about 24 months, tops.
The idea of parodying a subgenre of film that was essentially a parody to begin with is a bit frightening, but it works well. Kevin Williamson conceived Scream as a knowing take on horror films, and now Scary Movie—for all its hermaphrodite jokes—is a knowing take on that knowing take. In exchanging winking cynicism for over-the-top comedy, Wayans recovers a bit of the visceral fun that was lost by Williamson’s teenagers-don’t-talk-like-that scripts.
Wayans, whose most accomplished big-screen foray before this was the blaxploitation satire I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, should see his career leap forward thanks to the phenomenal box-office numbers posted by Scary Movie. If he and his brothers can keep the laughs coming this fast in their future projects, it won’t be too long before someone is parodying their films—which would be the highest compliment possible.
Scary Movie (R) HHH Directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans. Starring Anna Faris, Marlon Wayans and Jon Abrahams.