Scre4m [sensibly known as Scream 4]
Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind — his adaptation of Chuck Barris’ book about his dual professions of hosting The Gong Show and being an assassin for the CIA — is a lot different from the movie that the director, George Clooney, put together. Apparently, Kaufman was upset by the fact that Clooney made the film a lot more straightforward than he had intended, eliminating a lot of the narration, self-evaluation and overall meta-ness that Kaufman specializes in. Clooney admitted as much, saying that he cut out a lot of scenes of masturbation.
Whether Clooney meant metaphorical or literal masturbation is unclear (Kaufman’s screenplays often have masturbation in them). But certainly, that version of Kaufman might have appreciated what Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson have tried to accomplish with Scre4m.* How many levels are there to the reality we witness?
Well, probably aware of how making fun of a tired formula is just as dull as just making the film straightforward, Craven/Williamson up the ante by making the characters not only aware of slasher movie rules, sequel rules, horror franchise rules and the fact they know they’re in a movie, but casts virtual look-alikes of the original cast as teenagers in the current film.
The kid playing one of the film geeks (Eric Knudsen) who lectures and explains everything to us so we know how the movie will be constructed is a dead ringer for the 1996 version of Jamie Kennedy. When one of the characters, Jill (Emma Roberts), notices she’s a scream queen cliché of her cousin, Neve Campbell,** it takes us out of the moment — not only to realize she’s right, but to notice how 20 year-olds have facially evolved in the last 15 years. Campbell’s face, just like her older co-star Courtney Cox, is sharp and angular (just as they were in 1996). Roberts and a lot of her co-stars have rounder faces, goggle eyes and Muppet features. Their default expression is so outlandish and cartoonish that it does all the acting they need to do without having to really emote (it will come in handy later in life when Botox becomes a starlet requirement).
With your mind occupied by all of Scre4m’s references to the original films and all of the casting subtext (Anthony Anderson plays a cop here, and he was in several of the Scary Movie films), it frees you up from having to rely on the actual movie for entertainment. Craven and Williamson may be aware of how pointless the movie is and how it’s all going through the motions with stock scenes everywhere and the editing of the film merely incidental as you could place any sequence ½ an hour earlier or later and it wouldn’t change much. … But that doesn’t help the viewer.
This is clearly where the behind-the-scenes contributions of screenwriter Ehren Kruger come into play. I’ll admit, I couldn’t be less of a fan of Kruger*** — especially with the way his scripts are so packed with convoluted incidents and heavy requirements of suspensions of disbelief without them paying off as anything other than structural eyesores. And, obviously, Kruger was brought in (most likely by the Weinsteins, to the consternation of co-producer Williamson) because he wrote Scream 3. Up until now, it was the least of the series.
Scre4m makes all of the same mistakes Scream 3 did. Scre4m repeatedly introduces characters only to kill them off less than five minutes later, rendering their existence meaningless to us. And with no variety in the types of kills, stabbing can get pretty boring. Scre4m introduces just as many characters as Scream 3 did, but is 5-10 minutes shorter. So there’s even more backstory and character development to spread thin. The briefer running time helps with the simultaneous boredom and exhaustion inherent in a Kruger script, but that doesn’t make Scre4m a pleasant experience.
All of the characters and bit parts**** and a mystery bathed in relentless red herrings and half-baked false scares turns Scre4m into an episode of Murder, She Wrote outfitted in a push-up bra designed for A cups and a bit too much bronzer. (Boy, is Hayden Panettiere’s carrot skin distracting.) The fact that the film isn’t scary is incidental; you’ll have a hard enough time remembering who everyone is before you even register that they’re about to be stabbed in the chest by another in a long line of Ghostface Killer copycats.***** (Why didn’t ticket sellers provide us with a family tree and a character map on the way into the theater?)
Williamson’s wit is buried under all this rubble of reverence for the original three films. So it’s a miracle when a good line creeps out (“I’m sorry about your publicist”). Is the fact that all of the teenage characters look alike supposed to be another joke? Or is it just pandering to the audience that’s pining for blandly recognizable TV actors? Wasn’t Craven aware of this problem, or is the existence of the movie at all just a proverbial throwing in of the towel?
Yes, Craven has made sequels in the past that he was not interested in making and only did so for financial reasons (The Hills Have Eyes 2 [the 1985 version] and Scream 3). But at least he made the latter as a trade-off so the Weinsteins would finance a pet project, Music of the Heart. You’d think that Craven and Williamson would have learned their lesson on 2005’s Cursed, a film which the Weinsteins had Craven re-shoot and Williamson rewrite practically in its entirety, resulting in a movie that was fractured, confused, and pleased no one.
Williamson hasn’t had a feature film produced since Cursed (and it had been 7 years in between the release of Cursed and his previously produced screenplay for Teaching Mrs. Tingle), and has been steadily working in teen-friendly TV (Vampire Diaries) quite consistently since the Scream franchise previously ended. Craven has always had a spotty track record. Between 2005’s Red Eye and his long shelved My Soul to Take, he made exactly one 5 minute short film for the compilation Paris, I Love You. Does that mean that Craven agreed to make Scre4m if the Weinsteins put up the money for My Soul to Take? Jeez, I hope not.
* Yes, that’s the official title, instead of just Scream 4. I doubt the marketing team realized that by putting the number within the title, whenever anyone wrote about the film, that instead of typing Scre4m, they might accidentally hit the shift key, and instead of typing the number 4, the $ shows up instead. A more honest 4quel title might have been $cream.
** Neve Campbell, the martyr queen of the first three Scream films, is back in town to promote a book about her experiences.
*** Ehren Kruger wrote Arlington Road, my least favorite film of all time.
**** Cameos litter the film.
***** Is the identity of the killer important? Or is it just another one of those situations where the reason you’re surprised is the killer is some very minor character who you don’t even remember (like in Scream 2)? If I said that the only reason it’s an emotional relief when the killer is revealed is it means the movie is over, would you be surprised?