In my time as a film critic, I’ve never given a film a 1. I write reviews for HEAVEMedia, and 1 counts as our lowest possible rating. I’ve skirted the possibility before, considered it when Phyllida Lloyd made Margaret Thatcher’s declining health into an apologia for her neo-conservative politics, as if she were making Margaret Thatcher’s The Notebook. When I saw Temptation, the Tyler Perry movie that rape-shamed its heroine with HIV, I came close. I almost pressed the big red button of infamy.
So, what could possibly get a 1? What could be worse than AIDS?
Ladies and gentle creatures, I give you Scary Movie 5, a film so empty, lazy and artless that it doesn’t even bother to spoof the movies that it’s ostensibly supposed to be parodying, or bother to tell any real jokes in the process. Fare like Movie 43 and Inappropriate Comedy also debuted this year to scathing reviews, as critics took offense to its humor. However, those movies tried their darnedest to be offensive, throwing every single scatological joke at the wall to see what sticks. Nothing does, but in Scary Movie 5, there’s ample shit to be flung. Wall-to-wall sexist and surprisingly racist (see: black director), the movie practically overflows with dung. However, no one bothers to throw it.
When I was seven, I wrote a novelization of a Christina Ricci movie I’d seen in theatres, where she and Anna Chlumsky search for gold in the mountains and are chased by a drunken Ray Liotta. (This is a real film.) Because I was seven and couldn’t come up with my own plots yet, I claimed that it was my own work, tinkering the source material just enough to call it a reimagining. I even wrote myself into the script as a way to claim their story as my own.
This is exactly what the Scary Movie franchise is up to, except the creators are grown adults who don’t have to peddle scripts a child could write in crayon. There is no real plot or structure to the film. Like Seinfeld, it’s about nothing. Scary Movie 5 ostensibly follows a couple (Simon Rex and Ashley Tisdale) who move into a house and discovered it’s haunted, a la Paranormal Activity and Mama. Tisdale serves to replace Anna Faris, who had the good sense not to dip her toes into this cesspool, and Rex semi-reprises his role from previous films, except that he doesn’t play the same character. Charlie Sheen played Rex’s brothers in past installments and now he plays…Charlie Sheen? This makes no sense.
Scary Movie 5 completely throws out continuity with the rest of the series, and often itself from scene to scene. Without Faris’ Cindy Campbell to ground the film in an actual story, the film drifts from scene to scene like King Hamlet’s ghost, looking for a reason to exist. It lacks the soul and heart Faris brought to the series as a clueless ditz struggling to get through her life. Campbell was Scary Movie’s Elle Woods, forever undaunted by the horrors of adulthood. Most people have difficulty juggling jobs and relationships. Cindy Campbell had to do that while fighting off ghosts, demons, serial killers and bad scripts. Although their series don’t compare in quality, having a show without her would be like vampire slaying without Buffy. The demons will perish all the same, but if there’s no force driving the stake, what’s the point?
Instead of Faris, the only force driving Scary Movie 5 is corporate synergy. The film is like a long advertisement for other films, never more readily apparent than when it spoofs Evil Dead, a movie that came out last week. To do so, screenwriters David Zucker and Pat Proft pull from the trailer. Similarly, their parody of Mama (which consumes most of the running time) relies on cursory knowledge of the film that could be gleaned from ads and generous IMDB summaries. It would have been next to impossible for them to have seen Mama, which debuted in January, in time for an April release.
Why spoof a movie you haven’t seen? Money, my friends. Everything in the film is a cheap gimmick with little relationship to actual satire, comedy, reality, common sense or coherence. The film often has to remind us what it’s parodying. During the The Cabin in the Woods segment, Snoop Lion is forced to shout “Cabin in the Woods!” a number of times to clue the audience in. A faux Morgan Freeman narrator attempts to make sense of it all, but the sound of a cash register on loop would have been more apt an explanation. As the movie’s end credits proclaim, “Welcome to Hollywood!”
To maximize cross-promotion and cash-in value, the film throws in references to everything from Rise of the Planet of the Apes to Here Comes Honey Boo Booto Black Swan, none of which are even horror films. A Haunted House got to Scary Movie 5’s Paranormal Activity spoof first (and better), making the film feel like re-heated dog chow. A Haunted House wasn’t exactly gourmet to begin with. Even its Lindsay Lohan cameo feels second-hand hopelessly stuck in the past, mimicking jokes Lohan herself was peddling last year.
It’s telling that the only jokes that stick are when Zucker borrows old Benny Hill material, which will absolutely speak to Scary Movie’s youth demographic. Zucker probably also thinks they’re into W.C. Fields and being caned, hobbled and quartered, or he wouldn’t have made such a wooden, painfully out-of-touch film. “The kids” handed him a C- Cinemascore, so clearly they aren’t into it.
What makes Scary Movie 5 so miserable, though, is how boring it is, interminable at a slim 85 minutes. My audience barely laughed throughout the film. Imagine eating a box of Lucky Charms that has no marshmallows in it. That’s what Scary Movie 5 is: chewing soggy oats without charm, waiting for the fun bits to come; I would have even settled for choking on the toy and dying. The blooper reel had to explain to me where the fun was to be had, where the jokes were that I was supposed to have laughed. At least the actors seem to have enjoyed themselves, and Tisdale could barely get through a scene with a straight face. Good for her. I felt like I was bleeding internally.
Richard Roeper called Movie 43 the Citizen Kane of awful. This “spoof” doesn’t even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Citizen Kane. This is the How Green Was My Valley of awful, the movie that everyone retroactively groans over when they are reminded that it beat Kane for Best Picture. It’s a movie that only serves to remind everyone how senseless and unfair the Hollywood system is. The scariest part of Scary Movie 5 isn’t that I wasted $10 on the worst movie of the year so far. It’s that I had to stay awake during it. History may not remember Scary Movie 5, but I will. It’s burned into my brain.