Stick It in Your Ear
"This movie speaks to the core American Pie audience," says 27-year-old screenwriter and actor Marlon Wayans of Scary Movie, shortly before admitting that his parents walked out of the latter following the scene in which Ray, played by Wayans's older brother Shawn, takes a penis in the ear--with lethal results.
"[Mom] had this look on her face like, 'What did I do wrong,'" says Shawn. "Like, 'What did I do to these kids,'" adds Marlon. The pair has just finished recounting their strict upbringing ("Aren't they kind of like the Osmonds?" wondered a fellow journalist before the brothers entered the room), and they're dutifully attempting to answer reporters' questions about pushing the shock-joke envelope in these post-South Park days. Yet their habit of building on one another's sentences turns the job of accurately depicting their thoughtful and thoroughly entertaining banter into something of a chore for the junket-going scribe. "No, but my mom said it was funny, though," continues Marlon. "She said, 'It's funny, but it's not for me.' And I appreciate that, because we didn't make it for my mom. If I made a movie for my mom, I'd be in trouble."
Indeed, this is not your mother's Psycho. Despite the judicious comment of eldest brother (and director) Keenen that this parody of teen slasher flicks has multigenerational appeal (i.e., three generations of kids have now come of age with signature horror movies, from Halloween through A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream), this Scary Movie has a very specific audience in mind. After all, we're talking about a movie in which, while a half-dozen nubile teens are terrorized by a knife-wielding killer, straight girls get drunk and go down on each other. A movie in which retarded people have intimate relations with vacuum cleaners. In which the quarterback of the football team casually asks his towel-clad teammates, "So--you want to get naked and wrestle?" In which interrogating police officers carry butt plugs with their handcuffs. In which beauty queens wear "Miss Fellatio" ribbons. In which manly gym teachers offer: "Come in. Have a seat. Take your bra off if you'd like." Oh--brave new teenage world that has such people in it!
But, like There's Something About Mary and South Park (both of which Shawn and Marlon cite repeatedly), there's more to the picture than a series of shockingly funny takes on generally unmentionable subjects. Certainly, the gleeful anti-p.c. offenses are in full effect--the disabled, the overweight, and the elderly taking their lumps along with the females. (Could it be that postfeminism means never having to say, "I don't hit girls"?) Certainly, the bodily fluids fly fast and furious in a series of equal-opportunity gross-outs--including the most voluminous money shot you'll ever see on film. And certainly, in keeping with previous Wayans Brothers parodies (e.g., Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood), there are riffs on Scream, The Matrix, The Sixth Sense, The Blair Witch Project, and I Know What You Did Last Summer, with nods to Big Momma's House, American Pie, and the "Whassup!" Budweiser commercial just for kicks.
But also--and unlike I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, which Keenen wrote, directed, and starred in, or Menace, which Shawn and Marlon wrote and starred in and Keenen produced--there's smart, subtle stuff mixed in with the broad strokes, not to mention some delightfully screwball inventions that I'm loath to give away in print. Where these earlier movies landed one joke at a time (sometimes with a thud), here there are so many solid, character-driven gags--and so many delivered straight--that a good portion pass almost unnoticed. As a result, extended sequences are carried out effortlessly, to absurd but appropriate extremes, and with nary a flat moment throughout (although the 88-minute running time helps enormously in this respect).
In any case, the hundreds of Gen Y kids at the film's Century Plaza sneak preview ate it up, literally leaping from their seats with laughter--while the somewhat more restrained journalists sequestered in taped-off seats proceeded to spend the next day discussing the Youth of America and the number of previously verboten subjects on which we've opened a comfortable public dialogue. Isn't it one thing, we asked each other, for teenagers to joke among themselves about anal sex and quite another for adults to joke with teenagers about anal sex?
According to the Wayans Brothers, we're asking for it--or someone is--because the fine line between good comedy and bad taste lies entirely in audience reaction. "If the majority of the audience--not select people, but your core audience--goes "ugh," then you know you've gone too far," explains Marlon. "We usually leave it up to them to dictate to us." Test screening upon test screening (and a little MPAA rigmarole) helped whittle the film down to its current, near-"ugh"-less state, in which it resembles nothing so much as a painfully honest manifestation of the fear, loathing, and desire wrung from the squirming id of a 17-year-old boy.
So, too, it soon becomes apparent that said id lives on long after puberty. While Keenen is discussing the decision to cast Seattle unknown Anna Faris in the lead ingénue role after seeing and dismissing hundreds of local actresses, one of the online journalists who'd been holding forth on matters sociological breaks in. "Say, Keenen," he says. "Was it hard to find an actress in L.A. who could convincingly play a virgin?"
Scary Movie starts Friday at area theaters.
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