The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Scream 4
Courteney Cox is not the only one feeling deja vu.

The original Scream holds a very rare distinction in Hollywood; after a lackluster opening, its business actually increased on its second weekend. That hardly ever happens. Phenomenal word-of-mouth ended up turning the slasher satire into a $100 million blockbuster, as well as a cultural touchstone. (You still see kids dressed as Ghostface every Halloween.) Scream 2 took the typical "we gotta do it bigger and better" approach, not quite hitting the bullseye again but coming within a reasonable distance. By the time of Scream 3, however, the whole concept was feeling kind of played out. The central theme of Scream 4 is that Hollywood only green-lights horror reboots these days, and of course a reboot is exactly what this movie is.

After one of the series' trademark opening kills, the story picks up with Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returning to the town of Woodsboro for the first time since leaving a decade earlier. She's the newly published author of a self-help book and has come home for a signing, and also to see her cousin Jill (Emma Roberts). No sooner does she arrive than a psycho in a Ghostface mask starts butchering the town's teens, with the presumed eventual goal of doing in Sidney herself. Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) hops into action to prevent another slaughter along the lines of the first three, while his now-wife Gale (Courteney Cox) uses her journalism skills to look for leads. The trail points her toward Woodsboro High's cinema club, which is about to host an annual horror movie marathon.

In addition to these familiar faces, Scream 4 also introduces us to a whole bunch of new characters, including Jill's girlfriend (Hayden Panettiere), her ex-boyfriend (Nico Tortorella), the founders of the cinema club (Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen), Sidney's aunt (Mary McDonnell), Dewey's deputy (Marley Shelton), a couple of wisecracking cops (Adam Brody and Anthony Anderson), and the publicist handling Sidney's book tour (Alison Brie). The film practically needs a traffic cop to handle all the people wandering on and off the screen.

Here's the thing about Scream 4: in addition to being overstuffed, it's also outdated. When the original Scream opened in 1996, it was a breath of fresh air. The movie came at that moment in time when pop culture was just beginning to embrace the self-referential, "meta" approach to storytelling. It shocked us by killing off major star Drew Barrymore in the first ten minutes. It showed Courteney Cox in a new light, and turned a slew of young actors, most notably Campbell and Arquette, into celebrities. Above all, it took a familiar genre - the slasher flick - and turned it on its ear. In 2011, "meta" movies and TV shows are a dime a dozen, we expect a big star to bite it in the opening minutes of a Scream sequel, Courteney Cox has moved on from "Friends" and into other successful roles, and the rest of the actors remain most associated with their Scream characters, so there is no joy of discovery. Plus, once you turn a genre on its ear, how do you do it again?

In keeping with the idea of reboots, director Wes Craven and screenwriters Kevin Williamson and (the uncredited) Ehren Kruger try to draw as many story parallels to the original as possible, but so much time is spent cramming in things they think the audience wants/expects that no real suspense is ever generated. The simple fact is that the concept just isn't new anymore; with the novelty value long since worn off, Scream 4 has nothing to do except haul out the same conventions that the original so brilliantly skewered.

To some degree, the film does coast by on a wave of nostalgia. Sure, it's mildly fun to see Neve Campbell outrunning Ghostface one more time. Cox still knows how to deliver biting one-liners, and a few of the screenplay's potshots (especially those directed at the Saw series) earn a laugh. But those things do not compensate for the lack of freshness, nor for the fact that it's kind of obvious who the killer is.

This sequel's requisite film geek character keeps espousing the idea that reboots are nothing more than lame, tired rip-offs of the original. Scream 4 seems to have been made entirely to prove that point. Meta? Yes. Satisfying? No way.

( out of four)

Scream 4 is rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some teen drinking. The running time is 1 hour and 43 minutes.