Directed by Wes Craven
Starring Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Emma Roberts, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, Rory Culkan, Hayden Panettiere, Marley Shelton, Nico Tortella, Erik Knudsen, Mary McConnell, Roger Jackson
Written by Kevin Williamson
There comes a time, around the 2nd fake opening, when one realizes that this joke within a joke has finally played out. How many pictures within pictures are we supposed to absorb before one decides it’s not worth the journey. So, your mind gives up and you sit back, absorb everything they want to sell you, take a bite from the red herrings they serve up, and just spit it out into the napkin and discard it from your mind later.
These twists, turns, betrayals and surprises are, by now, comfort food. When one considers that they had made 7 Saw films since the last Scream film, it is easy to feel a certain a fondness for the plain old buck knife that they use for most of this series dispensing of characters. It is with that feeling that we arrive to Scream 4. We feel pretty happy with the fact that they brought back the core trio (Cox, Arquette, Campbell) from the first trilogy, and are just a tad apprehensive whether they all will make it into the new proposed trilogy. In truth though, they have to know, it’d be an awful waste of an opportunity if they did all make it through.
So, after the first murders, we have Sid Prescott (Campbell) ambling back into town, mostly humble, but somewhat empowered by her new self-help and (literally) survival book being released. Dewey and Gale (Arquette and Cox) have been married long enough at this point to be bored with their lives, as if they could be anything other than grateful for every moment.
Woodsboro, meanwhile, has moved on. Sidney’s cousin, Jill (Emma Roberts) , is in High School, and watching her friends beginning to be picked off one by one. Who is doing it, and why, we are not allowed to wonder for very long, as the viewer gets pushed from one murder to the next. Theories, clashes and clues are thrown about so often, one is not so much inhabited by any particular scene, as much as pushed into each, then on and through to the next. Not that it matters, though, as there are plenty of moments that bring the story current and enough spunk in the the new characters that it should stay a bit more fresh than, say, any of the Shrek movies.
As Sheriff Dewey, Arquette has been allowed to show he is more competent than he was 10 years before. In fact, he’s been forever becoming a more fully realized person. If he makes it through to the end of the series, he might be a genius. His dynamic with Sidney has always been surprisingly fresh, and here is no exception. Gale Weathers can clash with just about anyone. In this film, however, it gets a little wearying. Marley Shelton as Deputy Judy, is a fresh and pleasant surprise. After distinguishing herself in the Grindhouse films, she provides at once a comic and physical presence in the role of a character who makes Dewey look like Andy Griffith to her adorable Barney Fife.
As cousin Jill, Emma Roberts has an easy grace and seems quite wistful, as if she really were a loose relation to Campbell’s Sidney. If their conversations seem somewhat disconnected, one can easily picture it being a result of the journey Sidney has taken, and the one that Jill is about to take. As Jill’s mother, McConnell is somewhat shell shocked. She is Maureen’s sister, after all.
Craven, for his part, seems to be on cruise control here. Very few of the scenes have real surprise to them. They are more than competent and exceptionally crisp, but there are either overly telegraphed and lengthy scenes, or rushed and hyper kinetic without much subtlety. It’s close enough to the real thing to qualify as a sequel, but it does not exceed expectations in any way. A particular bad turn with both writer Williamson and director, is the customary big party in the remote barn. Really, after so many people were just terminated? Hardly. They both are better than that, even here.
Among the positives, their is Rory Culkin, who has his brothers’ ability to stare beyond the scene. Campbell looks rested and ready to fight. Not one ounce of a woe is me attitude this time around. The camera is quite attuned to her and the movie is well worth watching as a continuation of her character alone. Roberts and Panettiere give the snap that has missed since the original, plus spots of the 2nd and 3rd when Jamie Kennedy is on screen.
In the end, this film has a trick or two up its sleeve, but the tricks are so hackneyed, and go on for so long, it makes you want to laugh and yawn almost simultaneously. This is not the high point of the series, but it does not strike one as a low point, either.
(*** out of *****)