Dewey Riley (David Arquette) is a pretty shitty cop. The killers always get away, people are always dying around him, he breaks as many rules as he enforces, and he’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is… but he’s also fun, playful, and pretty damn entertaining.

Dewey is the Scream franchise. (Well, all but Scream 3, which was like Dewey after a car accident had smashed his brains into ignorant and unfunny jelly that was then devoured by Ehren Kruger and shat out upon a blank page.)

It’s been eleven years since we saw Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and friends triumph over her half-brother’s murder spree in Hollywood (decade old spoiler!), and she’s a new woman. Sid has blossomed from eternal victim into best-selling author and is on a book tour celebrating her memoir about making lemonade out of blood spattered lemons. Her last stop brings her home to Woodsboro where it all began, and if the two recently gutted teens are any indication, where it’s about to begin again.

Sid’s not exactly the most popular woman in town anymore since being with her is “like being on Top Chef with Jeffrey Dahmer.” That combined with the past films’ body counts has left her with only two friends (and returning characters). Dewey and Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) are happily married now, but while he patrols the streets she struggles to find inspiration to write again. Hurray for murder!

Also along for the ride this time are Sid’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and her friends who start to receive menacing calls on their iPhones. That’s how you know it’s 2011. Film geeks (and Randy stand-ins) Robbie and Charlie (Erik Knudsen and Rory Culkin), brooding ex-boyfriend Trevor (Nico Tortorella), and hot best friends Kirby and Olivia (Hayden Panettiere and Marielle Jaffe) round out the menu. Soon Sid, Dewey, and Gale are back doing what they do best… avoiding the killer, narrowing down the suspect pool, and exercising their leg muscles.

Let’s get this out of the way first. While Kevin Williamson‘s script throws in some new rules, it’s the old rules that continue to thrive here, and as always some of them are the most frustrating aspect of the series. So if you can’t deal with idiots who constantly find reasons to go off on their own, fools who fail to fight back or pull off the killer’s mask or even just refuse to answer the goddamn phone, parents who let their kids go to parties while a killer stalks the town, and characters whose level of self-awareness makes Skynet look like a Casio calculator, then don’t bother. Seriously, Gale even refers to the events transpiring as being “too meta” at one point.

But if you appreciate the combination of kills and wit evident in the first two Scream films then I’m happy to report that Williamson’s latest collaboration with Wes Craven is a return to form. The opening scene alone is worth a trip, and while the remainder of the film doesn’t quite live up to that promise it still manages to be a bloody, funny, and entertaining ride to the very end.

After the kick-ass opening, the introductions, murders, and one-liners start flying fast and loose. As mentioned above new rules are put into effect which essentially boil down to this. Everyone is a potential victim… unless they’re gay. And the ‘everyone’ here is fairly substantial with the main cast being fattened up with plenty of supporting roles and recognizable faces including Mary McDonnell, Alison Brie, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, Marley Shelton, and more. This expands the victim roster as well as the list of potential suspects, and you will be guessing as the only character guaranteed to not be the killer is the one the film pushes the hardest.

The script pays due respect to other slasher films, sequels, modern technology, and more, but it also patterns itself on the original Scream to entertaining effect. Characters and actions mirror that film’s events to a degree but wisely know when to stick in the knife and twist the viewer towards the unexpected. Just when you think you have it all figured out the movie throws some intestines in your face and forces you to start all over. There are a few missteps along the way, but in general the script reminds why Williamson became such a hot commodity back in the nineties. He manages to keep the laughs flowing as freely as the blood even as this new Ghostface ups the cruelty and social commentary.

Scream altered horror films (for better or worse) and remains a highpoint of the slasher genre to this day. Scream 4 doesn’t achieve those heights, but for a third sequel it’s a hell of a lot better than it probably deserves to be. It’s funny, fresh, and wonderfully bloody, and it finds that delicate balance between horror and comedy that the last entry missed entirely. See it. Enjoy it. Then go home and join me in thinking about Paniettiere in the shower. (That’s some terrible pronoun reference structure and could result in a very full bathtub, so maybe we should scratch that idea.)

The Upside: Opening scene is fantastic; humorous dialogue; bloody kills; solid whodunit; Sid pro-actively attacks the killer; updates core moves and explanations nicely for 21st century slasher; Hayden Panettiere makes my genitals sing (and this is from someone who’s never given her a second glance before now)

The Downside: Too many characters are still stupid; may be a bit too aware of itself; the main suspect’s name is Red Herring which is a bit too on the nose (that’s not true but the script does try way too hard to make viewers suspect this character); will probably lead to a fifth film but it really shouldn’t

On the Side: I knocked Ehren Kruger in the opening of the review, but in addition to apparently doing touch-ups on Williamson’s script for Scream 4 he also wrote The Ring and Arlington Road, two movies I really enjoy. It’s the other five or six movies on his resume that suck the shit from a dead dog’s asshole.


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