First, a brief biographical note: When the first ‘Scream‘ came out way back in 1996, I (like most people) missed it during its initial theatrical run. There was a second-run house where I grew up in Texas that showed movies for a dollar, so, on a Monday, I saw ‘Scream’. I was blown away. I went back every day for the rest of the week. While ‘Scream 2‘ (released the following year) was pretty great, ‘Scream 3‘ was lackluster at best. Nonetheless, I still had an unearthly amount of excitement for the latest installment – which is why it’s so hard for me to write about its mediocrity.
‘Scream 4’ opens with gusto, in easily the best pre-credits sequence since the original film. It’s too good to give away (and too hard to explain), but the sequence has more layers of reality than ‘Inception’ and will leave you howling. The rest of the movie, though? Not so much.
The basic premise is that Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is returning to her hometown of Woodsboro at the end of a book tour promoting her memoir that chronicles the events of the earlier films. So we get to catch up with the only other surviving characters. Dewey (David Arquette) is now the town’s sheriff, and his wife Gale (Courtney Cox), formerly a television news anchor and author, is currently a bored housewife. A series of murders occur, and things turn into another whodunit, with a cast full of nubile cuties (among them Emma Roberts as Sidney’s cousin and Hayden Panettiere as a closet horror geek) for slicing and dicing.
For much of the movie, I enjoyed being back in the scary/funny wise-ass ‘Scream’ universe once more. That’s all well and good, except that the old characters are given so little to do (and are off-screen for long stretches of the film), that you wonder what the point was in bringing them back at all. (Arquette, in particular, looking sweaty and bloated, seems lost.)
Original ‘Scream’ screenwriter Kevin Williamson wrote the first version of the script, only to be replaced at some point during production by ‘Scream 3’ scribe Ehren Kruger .The movie’s main trouble comes with its inability to articulate its intent. About halfway through, the idea is brought up that the crimes are being constructed as a remake of the events of the first ‘Scream’. But the filmmakers (including series stalwart Wes Craven) seem confused. If it’s a remake, who is the surrogate for Dewey supposed to be, especially since Dewey is still alive?
Questions like this plague and ultimately derail the somewhat sophisticated fun of ‘Scream 4’, which is gorgeously shot and acted with gusto. (Alison Brie seems to be having a ball as Sidney’s bitchy agent). If the movie falters on a basic conceptual level, it’s tough to get behind. There are a few pleasures to be had here, and it certainly isn’t as dismal as ‘Scream 3’, but you’d think that in the years in between the films, there would be more fertile material to cover, mock, and reinvent. Instead of a remake, ‘Scream 4’ just feels like a warmed-over rehash.