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The Sick Sense

'Scary Movie' puts the gusto back in the digusto.


IF THEY GAVE an Academy Award for "Most Fellatio Jokes In A Single Film," Scary Movie would surely be this year's winner. No doubt it would also pick up the hotly contested prize for "Most Fart Jokes," the prestigious award for "Most Offensive Treatment of a Mentally Retarded Character" and the politically conscious statue for "Film With The Most Annoying Propensity to Make Fun of Gay People."

Still, Scary Movie is embarrassingly funny at times, often while being grossly offensive. It will doubtless be one of the most popular films for young teens to sneak into this summer (its R rating barring them from coming in the front door).

Directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans and written by his brothers Shawn and Marlon, Scary Movie is a parody of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, with spoofs of scenes from Matrix, The Blair Witch Project, The Craft, The Sixth Sense, American Pie and, oddly, The Usual Suspects thrown into the mix. It's sort of a 21st century teen-oriented version of the old Airplane! movies, only with lots more poop jokes.

If you know the plots of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer you know the plot of Scary Movie (although, strangely, the plot of Scary Movie actually makes more sense than the plots of the films it parodies.) In fact, Scary Movie was the original working title of Scream. However, if you don't know those movies, there's really no point in seeing Scary Movie, and you might as well put down this review and go back to that episode of Masterpiece Theatre you were watching.

But if you're tuning into PBS only for the fine acting, you might actually want to check out Scary Movie, whose cast of unknowns, little-knowns and ex-WB and UPN "stars" is surprisingly good. The actors have to work in three styles, jumping from very broad farce to straight horror-movie drama to the self-conscious moments where they admit to being actors in a movie, and they pull it off surprisingly well.

There's also some unexpected subtlety in the use of "fourth wall" humor, i.e. scenes that point out the presence of an audience or camera crew. This is done three times in the film, and the incidents are well spaced so that they can be funny without detracting from the flow of the movie.

Not that there's all that much flow. While there is a skeletal plot about a group of teens who murdered a fisherman and then are stalked by a killer wearing a Scream mask, the story is mostly there to frame a series of comic vignettes. The bits are a mixture of simple parody (often lifting dialogue directly from the films being spoofed), commentary on the genre in general (as in a scene where Shannon Elizabeth is being attacked by the killer, and makes sarcastic remarks about how trite the experience is), and, everyone's favorite, bodily fluid gross-out humor.

Scary Movie includes a greater quantity of sputum, snot and, especially, ejaculate than can be found in any Farrelly brothers film. In fact, it seems that Scary Movie may provide the answer to the question that's on the lips of every filmgoer in the country: What does the future of gross-out comedy hold?

With Me, Myself and Irene the Farrellys showed themselves to be sliding into a decadent phase in their pursuit of the disgusting. It seemed that they were just going through the motions, throwing in more and more grossness in a wan effort to reach increasingly jaded audiences.

But Scary Movie breathes new life into the genre by increasing the quantity of human fluid in any given gross-out scene, while also spacing those sequences out with scenes of more tasteful humor, such as committing violence against women or humiliating the handicapped. How were the creators of Scary Movie able to resuscitate this moribund genre?

I think the answer lies in the history of American popular culture. Just as rock music was invented by African Americans who then largely abandoned it to whites, the gross-out genre was invented by (extremely) white people. They, however, have lost their capacity to handle excrement with humor and aplomb, and now the Wayanses--our leading African American comedy family and the geniuses behind such television hits as In Living Color, The Wayans Brothers and Whole Lotta Wayanses!--have stepped in to infuse the dying disgusto-film form with a fresh perspective.

This could be the harbinger of a new era in race relations, where those who were robbed of their cultural heritage turn the tables and take on the cultural detritus of the dominant white majority, reinvigorating it and perpetuating it so that a new generation of audiences can again enjoy the deep laughter that only comes from watching someone choke on pubic hair.

Scary Movie is playing at Century El Con (202-3343), Century Gateway (792-9000), Century Park (620-0750), De Anza (745-2240) and Foothills (742-6174).

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