More Ream Than “Scream” in the Fourth Installment
The “Scream” film franchise carved a memorable niche out of the slasher movie genre between the years 1996 to 2000. Not only did the original “Scream” trilogy qualify as a hoot because it ridiculed genre classics such as “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” but it was also a holler since it delivered its sadism with smarts that the grisly classics shunned. “Scream” director Wes Craven and scenarist Kevin Williamson have waited a little over a decade to reboot the franchise with the latest installment. Judging from its dearth of creativity, “Scream 4” (**1/2 out of ****) doesn’t deliver enough of anything to whet our appetite for a fifth entry. Mind you, the production values are solid and the gore is more than adequate, it’s primarily the story that leaves something to be desired. Craven and Williamson have bled the franchise of its cutting edge spontaneity while other more potent franchises, such as the hilarious “Scary Movie” series and the sadistic “Saw” sagas, have emerged to make the “Scream” movies appear prudish by comparison. Although original survivor Neve Campbell, small-town Barney Fife sheriff David Arquette, and savvy news reporter Courteney Cox reprise their roles, their presence adds only minimal novelty to this thawed-out, run-of-thrill chiller. Nevertheless, the insightful cinematic criticism that permeated the original trilogy remains just as razor-sharp in “Scream 4.” The new technology, such as Twitter, web streaming, and smart phone applications that enable callers to garble their voices like Ghostface, is clever, but none substantially strengthen the threadbare plot. Chiefly, the motive that the new killers espouse to resume their homicide for the hell of it is hopelessly lackluster. Indeed, sitting through the thoroughly repetitive “Scream 4″ is like attending a high school reunion where your old classmates have invited their offspring to enliven the occasion.
Craven and Williamson jump start the action with five startling murders that follow one another in rapid succession with harrowing twists. Indeed, the filmmakers rely on those creepy phone calls from an anonymous caller (voiced by Roger L. Jackson) to the girls about their favorite scary movies. Actresses Anna Paquin of “X-Men” fame, Kristen Bell of TV’s “Veronica Mars,” and Heather Graham of “Scream 2″ pop up in cameos during these opening gambits. Basically, they have modified a skillful tactic that director John Landis deployed with considerable effect in his legendary 1981 chiller “An American Werewolf in London.” After the opening credits subside, we find ourselves back in the bucolic small town of Woodsboro as Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell of “The Craft”) returns as a part of her publicity tour for her new self-help tome “Out of the Darkness.” Remember, Sidney was the sole survivor girl in the original trilogy. We learn that Deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) has been promoted to sheriff, while investigative journalist Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox of TV’s “Cougar Town”) has given up her old job to settle down with Dewey as his wife while she writes exploitation novels about the Woodsboro murders. No sooner has Sidney shown up for her promotional book tour than Dewey and his deputy Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton of “Never Been Kissed”), careen up to find the cell phone of a recently slain Woodsboro teenager in the trunk of our heroine’s rental car.
Although Sheriff Riley and Deputy Hicks struggle to keep a lid on the double homicide of high school teens Jenny Randall (Aimee Teegarden of TV’s “Hannah Montana”) and Marnie Cooper (Brittany Robertson of “Dan in Real Life”), everybody at Woodsboro High School knows about the murders before lunch. As tragic as the news is, the scene in a classroom where virtually the entire student body responds to their chiming cell phones is rather amusing. Since Sidney is a material witness in the case, Dewey demands that she stick around until he can clear up the mystery. She winds up staying with her aunt Kate Roberts (Mary McDonnell of
“Dances With Wolves”) and cousin Jill (Emma Roberts of “Nancy Drew”) while a psychotic murderer decked out in a black cape with Edvard Munch mask stabs its way through hapless teens. The most likely suspect is Jill’s ex-boyfriend Trevor Sheldon (Nico Tortorella of “Twelve”) who cheated on her. Jill’s two friends, Olivia Morris (Marielle Jaffe of “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”) and Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere of TV’s “Heroes”), run interference for her against the ubiquitous Trevor who appears to be stalking her. Trevor is the equivalent of Sidney’s boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich of “Chill Factor”) in the first “Scream.”
Like previous “Scream” epics, “Scream 4″ boasts two nerdy characters, Charlie Walker (Rory Culkin of “Signs”) and Robbie Mercer (Erik Knudsen of “Beastly”), who serve as trivial pursuit connoisseurs on horror movies. The charm of the original “Scream” trilogy was that everybody suspected who was going to die next based on the conventions of the slasher genre. If you pay careful attention to the characters and the action, you can figure out who is behind the murders, but Craven and Williamson do a good job of seeding the plot with red herrings to throw you off the scent. The running joke here is that gay characters enjoy a greater chance of survival than heterosexual characters. Ultimately, this isn’t the case. Everybody who congregates around the new Sidney–Jill–and her ex-boyfriend Trevor stands an excellent chance of dying. The problem with all this shrewdly staged nonsense is that none of the old rules apply. None of the teens is involved in illicit relationships that make them vulnerable to a serial killer. Primarily, they become victims when they are isolated in a house, and the sheriff deputies sent to protect them fare no better as our killer doesn’t discriminate against them when it comes time to stab. The biggest problem is that none of the new teens make very interesting characters and the thespians that portray them lack charisma. Finally, the last quarter-hour is worse than a classic slasher as things grow repetitively far-fetched, and “Scream 4″ draws this finale out to absurd lengths. Although it isn’t a total waste of time, “Scream 4″ suffers from over-familiarity and needless self-referentialism.