Put yourself into the position of someone scripting an entry in the Scary Movie series: For at least a year leading up to its release, you probably take no pleasure in watching movies that might work as joke fodder. Instead of being terrified by the tripods disintegrating a screaming crowd in War Of The Worlds, you're thinking, "What if they blasted some gangsta-looking guys and all their gold jewelry fell to the ground? Would that work?" Trying that hard to be funny must take all the joy out of it.
At least, what makes it to the screen feels pretty joyless. In Scary Movie 4, director David Zucker does an able job of aping the look of recent movie hits. And the writing team of Craig Mazin, Pat Proft (of Police Academy fame), and Jim Abrahams (Zucker's former partner, working with him for the first time since The Naked Gun) keep the gags coming one after another. Unfortunately, the hit-to-miss ratio tilts pretty squarely on the miss side. Where Zucker and Abrahams' classic gag-a-second films with Jerry Zucker (Airplane!, Top Secret!, The Naked Gun) mixed slapstick, verbal humor, film parodies, and pop-culture references, Scary Movie 4 sticks to a single, numbing approach: Take a scene from a popular movie. Add some pratfalls or poop jokes. Keep moving.
The ever-able Anna Faris returns to anchor the movie, acting out a parody of The Grudge that dovetails with a parody of War Of The Worlds, featuring Craig Bierko in the Tom Cruise role. (Does Cruise's Oprah moment get a poke? You bet!) Also sent up: The Village, Brokeback Mountain, Million Dollar Baby, and Saw II. Apparently there was no time for last-minute reshoots taking on Hostel, Stay Alive, or Curious George. The best parts come in the rare moments when the film decides to break from formula, as when old Zucker-team warhorse Leslie Nielsen returns as the U.S. President. Informed of the alien invasion while visiting an elementary school, he can't quite bring himself to shift his focus away from a little girl reading My Pet Duck. That gag has teeth. Scary Movie 4 could use more of them.