ait a minute. Hold up! How come you white people always say you gotta split up?!” As you may recall from Scary Movie, Brenda (Regina Hall) says what’s on her mind. (She’s the one who could not shut up in the movie theater, incurring other viewers’ murderous wrath.) At the point Brenda asks the above question in Scary Movie 2, she and her friends are trapped inside the haunted Hell House, and they’re deliberating what to do. Of course, she’s right. Everyone who’s seen a horror film knows that it’s always a bad idea to split up when facing irate ghosts and demons. And so, the white kids come up with a solution: they all take off together, leaving Brenda with her hapless sidekicks, her weedhead brother Shorty (Marlon Wayans) and her footballer boyfriend Ray (Shawn Wayans). “Oh my god!” the black folks screech in unison. “We’re gonna die!!!”
This is the kind of joke that the Wayans brothers writers Shawn and Marlon, and director Keenen Ivory do best. It’s fast, it’s pointed, and it’s undeniable, making obnoxious fun of those pernicious stereotypes that plague genre pictures (not to mention daily life). It’s the kind of joke that made last year’s Scary Movie (as well as 1996’s Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood and 1988’s I’m Gonna Get You Sucka) so refreshingly on-target. You laugh at the ballsy surprise and smart energy of this kind of joke: someone in a movie is saying just what you’ve been thinking, and the aim seems somehow true and new, even if it’s not, exactly.
But as shrewd as such jokes can be, in Scary Movie 2, they come surrounded by broadly conceived and unoriginal gags about bodily fluids, from blood to puke to semen to pus. Such goopy, unpleasant stuff is everywhere in Scary Movie 2, intermixed with hysteria about body parts, from crippled legs to deformed hands to breasts, lots of breasts. The goopy stuff starts right away, in the prologue to the movie proper, inspired by The Exorcist. Possessed Girl (Natasha Lyonne) pleads for some attention, interrupting her mama (longtime horror movie trooper Veronica Cartwright), as she’s partying with other proper white adults, gathered round the piano singing “Hello Dolly,” then segueing into “Shake Ya Ass” (white folks “getting down” is always a surefire hilarity). Possessed Girl pees on the carpet, provoking mama to call in the experts, namely exorcists Father Harris (Andy Richter) and Father McFeeley (James Woods). They make some poop and sexual reference jokes and then the revolt-o-meter goes into overdrive, using Linda Blair’s legendary projectile vomiting as its point of departure. Okay, fair enough Billy Friedkin’s movie has been spoofed repeatedly already, so perhaps the only place to go is full on into excess.
Truth be told, it’s hard to call out Scary Movie 2 for being excessively disgusting and stupid, since that’s precisely how the sequel to the most profitable R-rated movie in history is selling itself. It hardly matters that Scary Movie 2 might shoot its wad in its TV commercials, repeat gags from the first film, or make clumsy fun of a bunch of bad movies that are mostly sorry jokes in themselves (Jan de Bont’s The Haunting? Come on). The audience is primed to roll with this movie, to care little about its “quality.” And there are brief moments when you might think that this very notion the arbitrary, culturally constructed measures of quality, that condemn or ignore the work of “marginal” artists is the target here. It’s irrelevant that viewers at the screening I attended didn’t respond quite so uproariously or loudly as the couple of audiences with whom I saw Scary Movie (yes, I saw that movie more than once). Nothing this new movie does will be surprising, or even as “good” as in the first film, by definition. It’s a sequel.
This time, you know pretty much what everyone’s up to, so you won’t be startled by the frightening hugeness of some kid’s ejaculation, walking-self-satire Tori Spelling having Nightmare on Elm Street style ceiling sex with a ghost, or Ray’s sudden appearance in a slinky red dress. This stuff is made to deliver to expectations, not to change up the successful formula. The Wayans are great believers in test-screening, which they understand as a way to “give back” to those fans as well as to predict, as well as they can, how the film will play for paying customers. At the same time, part of what is so appealing about the Wayans brothers as a product is that they pitch themselves as a family who works and plays together: you get the sense, in watching Scary Movie 2, that the brothers (and co-writers Alyson Fouse, Greg Grobiansky, Dave Polsky, Michael Anthony Snowden, and Craig Wayans) had a grand old time making this thing. You can just imagine them seeing that Nike basketball ad play a bijillion times during the playoffs, and then get turned into a music video, and saying to each other that’s something we can mess with! Now, how do we crowbar it into the rest of the plot?
That plot, if you care, is this: SM1‘s high school survivor Cindy (Anna Faris) is now a student at Thomas Jefferson University, where a statue of the president with Sally Hemming and their nappy-headed children, is adorned by a plaque reading, “Once you go black, you never go back.” Tellingly, under this statue, Cindy confesses to her buddy Shorty that she feels like she doesn’t “fit in,” whereupon he proceeds to give her “hip-hop” lessons, a la Save the Last Dance. This is an excellent sight gag, and skewers STLD‘s central dynamic, wherein a sheltered Midwestern white girl assimilates (or appropriates, depending on your point of view) hip-hop in order to make sense of her troubled life, while her med-school bound boyfriend is stuck struggling with all kinds of urban-boy movie cliches. Watching Cindy and Shorty mimic that head-bobbing and shoulder-shrugging routine that was played to death in commercials makes Scary Movie 2‘s best point pop culture is all about overkill.
But there’s another 80 or so minutes to go, so you’re going to have to watch Cindy and her friends harassed by a lot more cliches. The victims include Cindy’s sorta love interest Buddy (Malcolm in the Middle‘s Chris Masterson), dim Alex (Spelling), dweeby Dwight (Mr. Show‘s David Cross), and busty Theo (Kathleen Robertson). Against all good judgment, they agree to participate in an evil professor’s (Tim Curry) nefarious experiment, to be conducted at Hell House, where they meet up with horny, slip-under-the-door-type mists; a trash-talking parrot (voiced by Matthew Friedman and drawn from Paulie); a vicious animatronic kitty cat; and a supremely vile butler, Hanson (Chris Elliot). Movie references are everywhere: Final Destination, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, American Pie, Mission Impossible 2, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Crying Game, Gladiator, Poltergeist, Hannibal (open up Shorty’s head and what do you find? Beetlejuice from Howard Stern), and the “Smack My Bitch Up” scene from Charlie’s Angels.
This stringing together of unrelated bits and pieces is, of course, the anti-formula formula that made Scary Movie such a killer hit. Most of the gags have to do with sex, some have to do with the ghost of a murdered husband, and lots of others have to do with pee. Fine. Disconnection is how gross-out comedies work, from Scary Movie and Something About Mary to Freddy Got Fingered. So judging them isn’t a question of whether the material is coherent (it is not), unfunny (though much of it is), or represents some general moral breakdown (I’m inclined to think it does not). It actually looks like the crucial question here has to do not only with overkill, but also speed, or perhaps more precisely, how fast mass culture can eat itself. The turnaround from pop cultural object to pop cultural punch-line is decreasing by the day. By the minute. Scary Movie 2 was contracted and produced in near record time, and can’t you just imagine the money people panting over the cash cow they stumbled on? The cost of such speed, though, is effectiveness. How subversive, politicized, or inspiring can comedy be that aims at The Weakest Link‘s Anne Robinson and Dude, Where’s My Car?? Maybe making so much money and amassing so much collateral will give the Wayans brothers, who made In Living Color a mostly smart culture-eating show, a chance to slow down and do something else.