The parody genre has experienced a bit of a downhill slide in recent years. Films like Airplane, Hot Shots, Top Secret, and a host of others are now considered comedy classics. However, in 2000, the Wayans brothers decided they would take a crack at the parody genre and released Scary Movie, a parody of the 90s self-aware slasher movie, specifically Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. The film received mixed reviews but was a box office smash, leading to three sequels and a collection of spin-offs, like Epic Movie, Date Movie, and the appropriately titled Disaster Movie.
The critical opinion of these films has only gotten worse over the years, and I only saw the original Scary Movie recently and thought it was about as funny as breaking a limb (hell, it’s even a joke in the film), but what threw me off about Scary Movie 5 was two things. One, it had a very funny trailer. I laughed something close to six times, and for a two minute trailer that’s pretty good. Second, it was co-written by David Zucker, one third of the writing team from Airplane and director of Scary Movie 3 and 4. It’s the first of the series to be written by him, so I decided to go in with an open mind and actually be trying to like a modern comedy film for once.
The plot of Scary Movie 5 revolves around Jody (Ashley Tisdale) who after adopting Charlie Sheen’s missing kids (just go with it), starts experiencing strange activity of the paranormal variety. Paranormal activity, if you will. They discover the children are being haunted by a spirit called Mama, who wants to sacrifice the children for a reason which isn’t explained very well. What follows is a barrage of slapstick, references, and general all-around insanity. One thing in that list you might have noticed I omitted was the word ‘jokes’.
The reason for this is that Scary Movie 5 doesn’t have jokes. Oh there’s the occasional gag here and there, but mostly, it is entirely bereft of jokes. What it has instead is references and observations about various aspects of pop culture, mostly films and celebrities. The trouble is, references aren’t funny on their own, they’re just references. Give the first Scary Movie some credit, it at least had actual jokes. They were cringe-inducing and unfunny, but they were still jokes. This…I don’t even know how to describe how unfunny this is.
I suppose the film’s complete ineptitude to display any kind of entertaining humour can be put down to several things. First off, let’s look at the writing. I guess I kind of expected more from the Airplane veteran, but the writing in this movie is atrocious. Now, there is a lot more material here than what was available in 2000. The modern found-footage and gore hound films have more to parody than self-aware slashers did. It’s amazing then that Scary Movie 5 parodies a total of one found footage movie about six years too late, and also mainly parodies the recent release Mama. I have to ask, why would you parody Mama? It doesn’t represent modern trends in horror film-making.
I got suspicious about the references they were making to Mama, and then it hit me. I was getting every one of them. The problem? One, I haven’t even seen Mama, and two, this movie was filmed in Autumn 2012. Mama was released January 2013. This leads me to conclude that they watched the trailer and then copied it into the film, played it in fast motion and added some swear words. You can’t parody something without having seen it because you can’t make accurate satire without first knowing the thing you’re satirizing This is basic textbook comedy writing!
Second, let’s look at the acting. This is one of the biggest gripes I have with modern spoofs. Take a film like Airplane for example. On top of having hilarious dialogue and situations, the actors portrayed every scene like they were in a serious drama. There was no self-awareness, no wink at the camera, just them acting the same. This makes it even funnier because you feel like you’re laughing at the film rather than with it. A joke becomes much less funny when the subject tries to get in on it, and that’s exactly what actors in today’s spoof films do. They portray it with such haminess and over-the-top wide eyes that it just isn’t funny anymore.
Scary Movie 5 has proved that so far, 2013 has not been a very good year for comedies. What with January’s release of Movie 43, one could be forgiven for giving up on comedies as a whole. It seems modern comedies are all just about mean-spirited humour happening to flat characters with no likability with nothing but gross-out gags and pop culture references to fill in the gaps. Until a really good comedy comes along soon, I wouldn’t hold your breath for it to change. If you want a good example of modern spoofing done right, I would watch 2008’s Superhero Movie (don’t believe the reviews, that movie is funny), and Charlie Brooker’s 2012 TV miniseries A Touch of Cloth. Both of these show an understanding of what makes this genre funny and a good understanding of the things they’re parodying. These films are little more than glorified sketch shows made by a five year old who just saw a film for the first time and is trying to make fun of it. I can only hope this fails at the box office and we won’t see any more of this abysmal franchise.