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Scary Movie 4

Directed by David Zucker

Written by Craig Mazin and Jim Abrahams

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Starring Anna Faris, Regina Hall, Craig Bierko, Leslie Nielsen and Bill Pullman

Classification: 14A

Rating: **½

Scary Movie 4, although vastly superior in every respect to Scary Movie 2, is no Gremlins 2, still the best horror-comedy-spoof combo platter. But director David Zucker (seminal 1980s spoof Airplane!) does add some old-school finesse to the franchise, started in 2000 by the Wayans brothers, by bringing on board frequent collaborator Jim Abrahams (Top Secret!, Hot Shots! and Jane Austen's Mafia!) to keep Scary Movie 3 hotshot Craig Mazin in line.

The storyline of Scary Movie 4 spoofs the Tom Cruise blockbuster War of the Worlds. Craig Bierko, a generic-looking good guy, plays heroic yet dumber-than-a-bag-of-hammers Tom Ryan, a deadbeat dad trying to make amends with his kids, but turning away every time his daughter gets clobbered by a car door, hit by lightning or snatched by aliens. At the end, Bierko does an eerily good, over-the-top Cruise freaking out on Oprah ( played to perfection by Debra Wilson).

Anna Faris, Tom's sweetheart, reprises her role from previous Scary movies as the sweet, innocent and naive Cindy, as does Regina Hall as the oversexed reporter, Brenda. To discover how to stop the destructive aliens (large "Tri-Pods"), they travel to The Village. Thus ensues a fine spoof of the M. Night Shyamalan clunker, featuring Chris Elliott as the village idiot and Bill Pullman as the village leader. Leslie Nielsen, a Zucker veteran, plays, of course, the hapless president, addressing the UN before being unwittingly undressed when he presses the wrong button on alien technology.

Later, during Scary Movie 4's climax, the alien "pods" capture Cindy, Brenda, Tom and his kids, who find themselves attached to outrageous, torturous contraptions in a Saw spoof, the most obvious horror reference here.

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Its main problem is that most of the movies have already been spoofed on TV and in Web-based parodies. This may explain why the requisite Brokeback Mountain spoof comes early in the film: Anthony Anderson and Kevin Hart play city workers who reminisce about their "fishing trip" where a singing Lionel Richie's Hello ignites their passion. Amusing but, hello, the Brokeback parody is so over.

In order to succeed, the spoof movie must be relentless. To waver into alternative comic terrain or scenes suggesting actual emotions (as many family comedies do) is to tempt heckling, random coughing or, the worst, silence. Writing, casting and pacing are vital. Scary Movie 4 doesn't let any gag get stale. It's rapid-fire, hit-and-miss and hit-and-strike comedy.

Don't let the number scare you: Scary Movie 4 is spooferific.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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