With Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Hayden Panettiere and Emma Roberts; Directed by Wes Craven; Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and teen drinking. 111 minutes.
SCRE4M – the fourth installment in grandpa Wes Craven’s once-vital “Scream” series – is like a teenager who comes home with an unruly tattoo or a face piercing through which he wears his Dad’s tie-tack or some other piece of ironic bling. With all the movie’s lip-smart, self-aware and nearly masturbatory monologging about the rules of the horror movie, it is merely copying its older siblings by saying, “Hey everyone – pay attention to me, as I am very clever and different and therefore worthy of your respect.” By now, though, there is little new left to say, and this plodding, by-the-numbers thriller has no real reason to exist, short of adding some black ink to Disney’s ledgers.
It has been 10 years since the last wave of killings in Woodsboro (and 11 years since the ho-hum “Scream 3”). Death-magnet Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) has written a self-help book and returns home to Woodsboro as part of her book tour. There she catches up with the now-married bumbling Sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and former TV news reporter Gale Weathers-Riley (Courteney Cox), and gets to know her teenage niece, Jill (Emma Roberts). Naturally, the Munch-styled Ghostface (stuntman Dane Farwell, voiced by Dane Jackson) appears and starts reducing the field of next-sequel returnees with a very large and sharp object (after, of course, nearly talking them to death on the phone).
The whole cast sleepwalks from scene to scene, the script for which reads like screenwriter Kevin Williamson cobbled it together from a book of Horror Movie Mad Libs. Granted, real-life married couple Arquette and Cox were in the middle of legally separating, so at least they have some reason to be dour, but isn’t a paycheck with six zeros in it supposed to make someone at least want to fake enthusiasm? (Perhaps scientists will someday cure this tragic disease known as Harrison Ford Syndrome.) Geek fave Mary McDonnell (“Battlestar Galactica”) as Sydney’s Aunt Kate looks lost, and Marley Shelton (“Grindhouse”) offers no subtlety as Dewey’s dutiful, lemon square-baking deputy, Judy. Even the usually funny and dependable Anthony Anderson (“Transformers”) is wasted; we sympathetically want him to die so he can just escape the movie.
The standard, snarky, celebrity-studded opening is repetitive, and the whole movie is loaded with plenty of cheap boo! scares and red herring time-padding. Also, despite being the shortest of the tetralogy, it all feels like one big, punitive, run-on sentence – like Iron Butterfly’s already interminable “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” sung in Quaaludian. The eventual payoff, although a nice surprise considering the against-type casting, is a satisfying release only because it allows the viewer to go home and pee.
Contemporary horror fetishists (and movie fans raised on Blockbuster) will of course defend the movie, if only to not feel embarrassed after having spent 15 years pledging their newfound allegiance to guru Craven, who, for every genre touchstone birthed like “A Nightmare On Elm Street” and “The Hills Have Eyes” made numerous floaters like “Shocker,” “Vampire In Brooklyn” and “Deadly Friend.” Add “Scream 4” to the list of also-mades that won’t earn a thumbnail mention when Craven is one day eulogized in news feeds.•••