‘Scream 4’ is just another lame retread

April 26, 2011

I was recently asked to participate in a "Scream" retrospective podcast in anticipation of the latest installment of the franchise. To brush up, I revisited the original and its two sequels after not having seen them for years.

What I had noticed was that, after years of sequels, spoofs, sequels to those spoofs, rip-offs and cinematic references, I had forgotten most of the primary films' essentials. My memories were clouded with lesser films and the mocking send-ups of some of the original's more climactic moments.

The fact that my recollections of the franchise could be so easily substituted did not bode well for my expectations for this latest installment, especially after so recently having to suffer yet again through the cinematic backwash that was "Scream 3."

This outing marked the return of the original's writer, Kevin Williamson, who dropped out after "Scream 2," due to tussles with the studio. Williamson's satiric take on the trappings of modern horror films was what helped make the original so sturdy, and a lot has changed within the genre throughout the last 15 years, giving him ample material to skewer.

But, as it turns out, not much has changed in the carnage-plagued hamlet of Woodsboro. For despite its well-manicured lawns, luxurious homes and squeaky-clean streets, it seems to still be a breeding ground for serial killers. The latest has decided to sharpen his/her/their skills just as the town's celebrity survivor Sydney (played by Neve Campbell) is back in town promoting her memoir of the entire original ordeal(s).

Still stuck in town are Dewey (played by David Arquette) and Gail Weathers (played by Courtney Cox). Dewey is now sheriff, and Gail is still managing to milk money out of the tragedy with a series of books (and subsequent films).

And speaking of milking it, it's clear early on that despite an inventive opening, Williamson and director Wes Craven really have no new tricks up their sleeves for this unnecessary outing. For all its talk of a "new decade, new rules," it follows its own playbook rather closely. Sure, there's a new crop of interchangeable teens whose ribs will eventually become knife holders, but Williamson's script is bloated with so many rotting red herrings, you give up even caring about what side of the blade any of them are on.

There are clever streaks that flash through the film, but it too often merely relies on a character to call out all the recent genre formulas, then have its own plot rigidly adhere to them.

It was nice to see the leads slip back into their cinematic alter egos, but that wears off early. Their presence haunts the film like a ghost of the original film whose cultural relevance died so many years ago.

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