It was in the final act of Scary Movie 3 that I realized, for the very first time, how alone in the world I was. Late in the movie, which I saw in theaters at age 15, director David Zucker mainstay Leslie Nielsen bolted hastily through a closed door, knocking the film's ghoulish monster to its demise before it could attack heroes Anna Faris and Simon Rex, reciting all the while the following iconic line from Airplane!: "I just want to wish you both good luck. We're all counting on you." A vehement Airplane! fan and a sucker for reference humor, I of course laughed. But nobody else, in the entire cinema — not my buddies, my then-girlfriend, or the crowd of strangers around us — joined me. "You guys don't get it?" I asked. I was alone. Nielsen's line was a joke lost on this demographic in a movie constructed exclusively For this demographic.
Scary Movie 5 rectifies this inconsistency.
The new film is built on the same model of the Scary Movies of past: a conglomeration of the horror (and a few other) films of recent years. The premises of Mama, Paranormal Activity, and Evil Dead meld with much stranger choices, like Black Swan, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, and Inception (there are also a few nods to The Cabin In The Woods and The Help in there). Following the death of their father Charlie Sheen (who is killed by a possessed Lindsay Lohan), three young, feral kids are discovered living in a haunted cabin, and brought to the custody of their paternal uncle Dan (Rex, once again) and his child-hating girlfriend Jody (Ashley Tisdale). Accompanying the tots is an evil spirit, "Mama," who wreaks havoc on the new household. Aching to uphold her new career in ballet and hold her family together, Jody seeks the aid of her maid Maria (Lidia Porto), her Swan Lake rival (Erica Ash), a psychic (Katt Williams), a dream inception-er (Ben Cornish), and scientist Dan's hyper-intelligent monkey friend to put this evil to rest.
But while the film has a plethora of movies from which to choose for parody, it doesn't actually seem to make jokes About any of them.
The parody was constructed (and perfected in part by Zucker himself) as a means to call attention to the flaws, follies, and lovable imperfections of the genres of focus. There are a few instances in Scary Movie 5 when director Malcolm D. Lee seems to be lending his attention to the idiosyncrasies of his subjects: one prolongued shot in the film actually mimics and mocks the cinematography of Black Swan (that's the Airplane! joke of this installment). But beyond this instance, and a few jabs at the excessive surveillance camera-work in Paranormal Activity, the horror and thriller genres go relatively untouched. Instead of being parodies, they are just used as a vehicle to shove as many bits of violent and sexual humor into the hour-and-a-half entry as possible.
As such, it feels more appropriate that the likes of Inception and The Help and a few other recent pop culture phenomena (there's an entire Fifty Shades Of Grey sequence) are called to arms in Scary Movie 5. It doesn't matter that they're not scary movies, because Scary Movie 5 isn't about scary movies. It's about sex, vomiting, and racial stereotypes (every non-white character in this movie is reduced to a collection of bigoted gags). There are also horror movie references, but they're just there to get us to the scenes of a Latina housekeeper having sex with a vacuum cleaner.
And for those entirely willing to shirk off any satiric value in Scary Movie 5 just to make it to whatever gags the film has in store, troopers that you are, rest assured: the comedy that Scary Movie 5 does strive for is devastating. It's not simply that the jokes are irrelevant to the franchise's established identity. They're lazy, tossed in clumsily, redundant (So Many Scenes of babies being thrown into things), and the worst offense of the lot: they're nothing, Nothing, you have not seen before. In the shoddiest excuse for comedy films out there.
So, I think back to that fateful day in the theater, catching Scary Movie 3 on an weekend night in the autumn of my sophomore year of high school. I think about how the Airplane! reference inspired a momentary joy, reminding me of a far superior parodic exploit, and how it, albeit a moreover cheap reference, was actually somewhat of a riff on the construct of another film. One that didn't seem to really work for anyone there to enjoy Scary Movie 3. And I mourn the absence of this in No. 5. Nothing's flying over anybody's heads here:. It's all right there on the surface: babies being thrown into walls, maids shtupping household appliances, and people getting hit in the head.
Now That's good parody.
Follow Michael Arbeiter On Twitter @MichaelArbeiter
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