As we consider the vapid cultural morass that is "Scary Movie 5," it's instructive to consider how jokes work, when they occur, and why comedy, when it's done right, is so enjoyable. All of these factors must be broached in order to fully explain why "Scary Movie 5" is so massively un-enjoyable, a hate crime against cinema, a ringing indictment of the depths commercialism will go to in search of the lowest common denominator. Quick now, we haven't a moment to lose!
Jokes, comedy, punchlines, and the like are constructed on the element of surprise. You are given one tone, one direction, and then the rug is pulled out from under you, the curtain drawn back, and an involuntary laughter rises from that momentary mental hiccup where your brain has been thrown in the other direction. Jokes, by their very nature, are meant to confound your expectations, and great jokes confound them in new and interesting ways. Secondary punchlines, callbacks, improv agreement - all of these comedic elements create a foundation in which you're lured into one reality and then jolted comedically awake.
This is not at all what "Scary Movie 5" does, or even attempts, because writing halfway decent jokes can be a difficult endeavor, whereas "Scary Movie 5" is the sort of film you and I could come up with after not sleeping for three days and then drinking four bottles of wine between ourselves.
Yes, the "joke" behind "Scary Movie 5," if there is one (there's not) is built upon a very simple, yet idiotic premise. The basic construct is:
1) These are things that happen in actual scary movies
2) Look at them, that's them, the things that happen in those other movies!
It's almost as if you'd rounded up a bunch of three-year-olds at a koi pond, gave them some fish food, watched them feed the fish, only to have them point out the fish to you. "Look, mommy," they'd say, "Fish!" Well, yes, sure darling, fish. But the ability to notice something isn't the same thing as inspiring laughter, because everyone notices things, all the time, all around us, merely as a function of existing. Observing something that happens is quite different from observational humor, of course, because the latter makes a remark upon the knowledge, whereas again, simply seeing something is about the easiest thing we do all the time, our frontal lobe constantly lending a helpful hand.
To wit, here are a few of the methods in which "Scary Movie 5" seeks laughs, the depraved observations of a flattened intellect:
1) Ashley Tisdale (as Jody) plays a guitar on her kitchen counter when the lights suddenly start flickering. This, naturally, worries her, and she looks around for the root cause of this electrical non-conformity. She then notices the headstock of her guitar has been turning the lights on and off. Issue solved! Then the lights flicker again, only this time it is because of a ghost. This interaction could be described as a coincidence, or a clumsy self-unaware guitarist, followed up by a plot point. There isn't a joke here. There isn't an anything here. It merely is.
2) A fart propels someone across the room. There isn't a joke here. There isn't an anything here.
3) A dog has a toothbrush placed in his rectum. There isn't a joke here. There isn't an anything here.
4) A man stands under a pan, and the pan falls on his head, conforming exactly to our expectations of what would happen. There isn't a joke here. There isn't an anything here.
5) A banana is made of feces. There isn't a joke here. There isn't an anything here.
6) Apes throw feces. There isn't a … well, you know (see, that's a little joke!).
This could go on for another hundred examples, but it's probably academic at this point, as it's entirely clear that no one involved with "Scary Movie 5" had even a passing understanding as to how comedy works. Many movies, much better movies, are aped and mimicked, all in an effort to point out that other movies have existed, just like this one, and these movies include "Inception," "Black Swan," "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still". I share this only to assist should it ever come up in Trivial Pursuit, please don't see "Scary Movie 5" to see how they reference said films.
"Look, mommy, other movies have been made that people have seen!" Yes, dear, now why don't you head back to your finger-paints while mommy makes herself a stiff drink.
If a joke is to be found, it has to be located firmly in the notion that this film could even have an audience, or perhaps the idea that actors agreed to participate in the project in the first place. Now, to be fair, the opening scene with Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen contains around four mild chuckles, though these just end up spoiling you, because they are the last mini-laughs you'll be treated to for the next 85 minutes. In a way, these jokes are cruel, because they set up a world in which "Scary Movie 5" doesn't hate you, an existence where it doesn't think you're a walking imbecile who is often distracted by shiny things.
If we were in a relationship, and I made you a dinner after a hard day of work, and you'd thrown that dinner across the living room, fettucini alfredo scattered across the tile floor while shouting, "I want a divorce!" then "Scary Movie 5" would be a month later, when I visited you at your dingy apartment by the freeway, making you the exact same meal, leaving it at your door, complete with dead flowers and a note that said, "Burn in hell you sad, pitiful shell of a woman". It's that good of a movie, it's that hardcore of a success story.
So it would be fair to say my experience with "Scary Movie 5" wasn't ideal. Before the movie started, the helpful AMC commercials told us to keep our eyes out for danger and to report suspicious characters if we noticed anything amiss. But the only suspicious characters were us, for watching the movie, and the only danger was to our minds, on the screen directly in front of us.
Indeed, one of the de facto views of our time is that the "Scary Movie 5"'s of the world will win and we'll all inhabit a world where commercialism and art can no longer co-exist closer than 1,000 yards apart. The cynic would hold that the studio system who signed up for five of these will eventually strangle everything that's right and good about the movies, while they trot toward the edge of a cliff, all while giving us the thumbs up. I, for one, am willing to entertain that battle, the struggle for hearts and minds, if only because "Scary Movie 5" never bothers to engage either.
Grade: .5 out of 10
Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and dedicates this column to the late, great, Roger Ebert, who fought the battle for hearts and minds as well as anyone ever has.