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Mini Reviews (August, September 2006)

Scary Movie 4, The Last Kiss, Stay Alive

Scary Movie 4 (August 14/06)

As uneven and ineffectual as its three predecessors, Scary Movie 4 relies entirely on its many, many jokes and gags to propel the story forward - which would be fine, were there anything even remotely funny within the film's screenplay. With the exception of one or two humorous bits - including the revelation that the puppet from the Saw series has a twin named Zoltar - Scary Movie 4 is essentially a dead zone of laughs, which is particularly disappointing when one considers the pedigree of its creative team (ie director David Zucker was a codirector on the comedy classic Airplane!). There's not much of a plot here; series staple Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris) encounters elements from a variety of recent flicks, including The Grudge, War of the Worlds, and The Village, and stumbles from one outlandish situation to the next. Scary Movie 4 boasts pointless cameos from folks like Bill Pullman, Michael Madsen, and Charlie Sheen, and it's certainly worth noting that virtually none of the film's actors manage to elicit any laughs from the shockingly amateurish script. And although Faris remains one of the series' few bright spots (nobody does bewilderment as well as her), there's simply no denying that these movies (and parodies in general, it would seem) have long-since outlived their usefulness.

out of

The Last Kiss (September 29/06)

Based on the 2001 Italian film of the same name, The Last Kiss is a compelling, surprisingly moving look at the ups and downs of contemporary relationships. This is despite the inclusion of several needless subplots involving the central character's best friends, although - to be fair - such problems were hard-wired into the film's predecessor. The bulk of the movie follows seemingly perfect couple Michael (Zach Braff) and Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) as they attempt to work through the deficiencies in their union, most of which are a result of Michael's brief dalliance with a college student (played by Rachel Bilson). There's little doubt that The Last Kiss would've fared a whole lot better had it focused solely on Michael and Jenna, as virtually everything involving Michael's friends - all of whom are suffering from their own quarterlife crises - just feels superfluous (worse still, it's virtually impossible to care about their problems). But such concerns prove to be short-lived, as screenwriter Paul Haggis jettisons most of the non-Michael and Jenna stuff somewhere around the halfway mark. It's at that point that The Last Kiss, due in no small part to Braff's thoroughly compelling performance (with the exception of Blythe Danner's broad histrionics, the acting is uniformly effective), becomes as intriguing and authentic as one might've hoped, and the film ultimately comes off as an ideal companion piece to the thematically-similar Garden State.

out of

Stay Alive (September 29/06)

Though Stay Alive never quite crosses the line into complete incompetence, the pervading vibe of needlessness becomes more and more difficult to overlook as the film progresses. The exceedingly silly storyline follows a group of friends who stumble upon an unreleased videogame and soon find themselves haunted by the demonic spirit of legendary 17th century serial killer Elizabeth Bathory. It's not hard to see what filmmaker William Brent Bell is trying to do here; with copious similarities to The Ring and its ilk, Stay Alive is presumably meant to echo the eeriness and deliberate pace that viewers have come to associate with Japanese-inspired horror flicks. But the complete lack of authenticity within the screenplay (particularly in terms of the titular videogame, which isn't even remotely convincing) and the preponderance of quirky supporting characters quickly transforms the flick into a thoroughly tedious experience, while the inclusion of some awfully lazy storytelling by Bell and cowriter Matthew Peterman (hmm, wonder if the hero's fear of fire will come into play later on?) ensures that even the most forgiving viewer will find little here worth embracing. And because the DVD is being marketed as an "unrated director's cut," the film's almost complete lack of gore is particularly egregious (a little needless brutality would've almost certainly elevated the proceedings, albeit temporarily).

out of

© David Nusair