A little restraint would have done wonders for "Scary Movie," a raunchfest that skewers "Scream," "I Know What You Did Last Summer," "The Matrix," beer commercials, "The Blair Witch Project," "The Sixth Sense," BET and just about every other pop-culture phenomena of the past few years.
Make that a lot of restraint. As brilliant as some of the film's parodies are - and you will laugh, no matter how hard you may try not to - the film resorts so often to scatological humor and gross-out cheap shots that it's those moments you'll walk out of the theater remembering.
Give director Keenen Ivory Wayans credit: He manages to parody a parody ("Scream" was never meant to be taken seriously, which is what made it so effective) and make it work much of the time. The opening sequence, in which a character named Drew (Carmen Electra, in a nod to Drew Barrymore, who played the first victim in "Scream") becomes slasher-dude's first victim, is hilarious.
Answering the phone inside her house, she's at first clueless to the danger. When it becomes clear, of course she bolts out the front door - where a conveniently placed lawn sprinkler, a couple of errant knife thrusts and some slow-motion photography turn her pursuit into a "Victoria's Secret" commercial.
The movie never quite reaches that peak again, but there are still plenty of laughs. When her classmates learn of poor Drew's grisly demise, they worry - until the news cameras show up, and then it's time to start primping. The only exception is pure-at-heart Cindy (Anna Faris), who's convinced something even worse is going to happen.
It does, which should come as no surprise to anyone who's seen a horror movie in the past few years.
There are several strokes of genius in "Scary Movie," including a bad guy wearing an elastic "Scream" mask (unlike the original, this one changes expression), a voluptuous cheerleader who's gotta be the sassiest murder victim ever, and a wicked take on the "Whasssuppp?" beer commercials. There's also a talking movie patron who gets her just desserts, a perpetually stoned horror-movie expert and an achingly funny salute to "The Matrix." (Actually, if you've seen the trailer for "Scary Movie," you've seen most of the best stuff.)
Too bad Wayans and his six credited screenwriters keep resorting to the disgusting and offensive. In interviews, Wayans has said he feels the need to push the envelope with such material, perhaps to out-Farrelly the Farrelly brothers. So we're treated to dozens of scenes of bodily fluids and other things I can't describe without losing my job.
It's easy to be offensive in a movie; it's much harder to be funny. Which is why "Scary Movie" emerges as such a waste; when you're so good at the latter, why keep falling back on the former?
Starring Anna Faris, Marlon Wayans, Shawn Wayans and Carmen Electra
Directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans
Released by Dimension Films
Running time 88 minutes
Rated R (sexual humor, profanity, crudity, you name it)
Sun score: **