The makers of Airplane! have reconnected for Scary Movie 4, but they've created a sequel that never truly takes flight.
Then again, director David Zucker and writer Jim Abrahams didn't really have anywhere to go.
As in the first three installments of this insanely successful franchise, the formula remains the same. Make fun of a bunch of movies (whether they're scary or not is irrelevant). Throw in some pop culture references, a couple of political jabs and a few rappers, just because they appeal to the films' young target audience. (This time you get Chingy, Fabolous and Lil Jon!)
Finally, sprinkle liberally with gross bodily noises and fluids, mix it up, throw it at the wall in one steaming, gloppy wad and see what sticks.
Very little, as you might expect.
Along with co-writer Craig Mazin, who also collaborated with Zucker on Scary Movie 3, they've come up with a film that shows sporadic flashes of comic greatness, separated by draggy repetitive stretches that make Scary Movie 4 feel longer than its 83-minute running time.
That number includes the closing credits, by the way, and we're talking about a cast of thousands - everyone from Dr. Phil to Shaquille O'Neal.
Those two get things off to a strong start in a spoof of Saw, in which both are chained to a device connected to a basketball net, and all Shaq has to do is make a free throw to unleash them, something the Miami Heat center has a hard time sinking under optimal circumstances. And here, the ball is literally a rock. But hey, at least he can laugh at himself.
From there, it's a cross between a parody of the Japanese horror remake The Grudge, featuring longtime Scary Movie star Anna Faris in the Sarah Michelle Gellar role, and War of the Worlds, with Craig Bierko filling in for Tom Cruise. Faris' Cindy Campbell sees visions of a spooky dead child while housesitting for a catatonic elderly woman (Cloris Leachman, who gets the pleasure of a sponge bath with a liquid that's not water); meanwhile, Bierko's Tom Ryan tries desperately to bond with the kids who hate him while aliens tromp across New York.
Give the Scary Movie movies credit for one thing: They get the details perfectly, right down to the costumes and camera angles. But it's like watching an episode of Saturday Night Live on the big screen. The gags are hit-and-miss, and regardless of their success, they categorically go on too long.
A Brokeback Mountain spoof involving a couple of cowboys who are black and gay is delightfully twisted at first, it features petroleum jelly, rubber gloves and a disco ball while they serenade each other in a tent with Lionel Richie's Hello but it doesn't know when to end. Same with a sight gag involving a suicidal Charlie Sheen, whose character accidentally overdoses on Viagra.
And while the idea of Carmen Electra playing the blind young woman in The Village is funny, the sight of her stripping down to a corset, stockings and heels and very loudly relieving herself in front of the townsfolk isn't.
Regardless of what Zucker and Abrahams do, they never achieve the extended, silly thrill of Airplane!, the 1980 movie that made it easy to surrender to your inner 12-year-old boy. Maybe it's just that the idea of being so goofy and politically incorrect isn't quite so novel anymore; it's been done, ad nauseam. And maybe it's just that the source material for the Scary Movie movies keeps getting weaker.