It all started, more or less, with a kooky little movie released way back in 1980. It was called Airplane!, and I think it's one of the finest American comedies ever made. (Yes, I'm serious ... and don't call me Shirley.) Not many young filmmakers can rightfully claim to have created an entirely new sub-genre, but the goofball team of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker were just silly enough to chance upon a comedy gold-mine: straight-faced, yet unequivocably outlandish satire that could effectively skewer a convention as readily as embrace it. (Let's face it: Airplane! poked a lot of fun at Zero Hour and the four Airport movies, but I bet you the ZAZ boys really like those flicks.)

With the disaster genre well and duly spooferized, the trio went on to lampoon spy movies (1984's hilarious Top Secret!) and police procedurals (Police Squad! on television and The Naked Gun trilogy in theaters) before mounting their first "straight" farce -- a rather brilliant kidnapping comedy called Ruthless People. After that, the boys amicably chose to go their separate ways: Jim Abrahams would go on to direct Big Business (1988) and Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael (1990) before heading back to spoofsville with Hot Shots! (1991), Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993), and Jane Austen's Mafia! (1998); Jerry Zucker would move on to direct Ghost (1990), First Knight (1995), and Rat Race (2001); his brother Dave would solo-helm the first two Naked Gun flicks, as well as BASEketball (1998) and My Boss's Daughter (2003). So clearly these are the guys to talk to when the topic of conversation is "movie spoofs."  
 
Now we move on over to a different team of filmmakers. Prior to the year 2000, the Wayans brothers (Keenan, Damon, Marlon, Shawn) were all over the map with sitcoms, movie roles, and, of course, the often-brilliant In Living Color. But 2000 is when they got the idea for a goofy horror spoof called Scary Movie ... and the thing was a bona-fide smash hit, enticing the Scream crowd to part with more than $155 million. An even more profitable sequel would follow in 2001, but then the Wayans boys were out and the Weinsteins of Dimension went to the only logical guy in an effort to continue the series. Who better than a co-creator of the Original Spoof to breathe some new (and hopefully PG-13) life into an unexpectedly profitable franchise?

So that's how two generations of spoof cinema were melded together, and the result of that marriage was ... Scary Movie 3, which I happened to find quite surprisingly amusing. So it was with mild enthusiasm that I sat down to enjoy installment #4 of everyone's favorite garage sale spoof-o-rama. (These things are the cinematic equivalent of a Weird Al Yankovic tune, only not nearly as clever.)

Sporting generous doses of fart, pee, and crotch humor, Scary Movie 4 is not so much a spoof/satire as it is a big orgy of stupidity. I'm not knocking stupidity, mind you, but there's something to be said for a well-tuned balance between cleverness, crudity, and silliness. Sad to say, Zucker's Scary Movie 4 is woefully unbalanced, favoring swollen-penis gags and gross-out dumbness over any sort of consistent satirical edge.

Last month's stunningly woeful Date Movie was a picture-perfect example of how the referencing of a movie is not nearly the same as the lampooning of it, and this is precisely where Scary Movie 4 fumbles. This is the sort of comedy that hopes to coast by on chuckles of "Oh, this is from The Village. How funny!" instead of sly insights or broad teasing.

For the record, there's really no plot to speak of. Imagine large chunks of Saw, War of the Worlds, The Grudge, Brokeback Mountain, Million Dollar Baby, and (yes) The Village thrown into a blender and then poured out in Saturday Night Live-style comedy skits. There are long and painful stretches in between the truly funny bits (I'll admit to laughing out loud at least four or five times, combined with six or seven mild-yet-enjoyable chuckles along the way), but the problem lies mainly within the limp material, and not within any of the performers.

Doe-eyed Anna Faris has long since perfected this style of broad and doofy humor, so there's little to worry about in that department. Series newcomer Craig Bierko does some amicably silly things as he tweaks on Tom Cruise's War of the Worlds character, while returnees Regina Hall, Simon Rex, and Anthony Anderson provide a few stray giggles along the way. Gimmick appearances by Shaq, Dr. Phil, and Carmen Electra bear little fruit. Mildly humorous bits from Charlie Sheen, Bill Pullman, and Leslie Nielsen spark up and then fizzle out.

Ultimately, Scary Movie 4 is a big, sloppy mess, which is fine because every flick in this whole goofy series is a big, sloppy mess. All we care about is how many rapid-fire laughs it can deliver before the end credits show up. Sorry to say that Scary Movie 4 simply doesn't stand up to its predecessor. Even at 75-ish minutes, the thing practically limps to the finish line, desperately tossing random gags up on the screen. Pacing is the essential key to a successful spoof, but SM4 delivers the goods at a distressingly intermittent clip. Fans of the series may enjoy this latest entry, as I did in small doses, but perhaps we're looking at a phenomenon similar to the Star Trek movie series: The odd numbers deliver, and the evens are kinda ... meh.