The perpetual engine of the unkillable ''Scary Movie" chain is toxic cynicism. At least two of the filmmakers of ''Scary Movie 4," director David Zucker and co-writer Jim Abrahams, are parody heroes (they made ''Airplane!"). But they seem fully aware that their movie should be projected onto a Glad body bag.
Part sketch-comedy cartoon, part Cracked magazine spoof, installment four is the most scornfully made yet. The high-definition video is particularly cruddy, and the plot plunges through the plots of other movies like a runaway elevator. Actually, that's a poor simile because it implies excitement and speed. What we get moves as fast as a corpse.
''Scary Movie 4" puts ''Million Dollar Baby," ''The Village," and ''Brokeback Mountain" in a headlock, the ''Saw" movies, too. But the guiding template here is Steven Spielberg's ''War of the Worlds," with Craig Bierko in the Tom Cruise part. Under these circumstances, that film seems execrable. (That's what's scary about these movies; they make good films seem bad by association.) Spielberg's disaster flick is welded to the American remake of ''The Grudge," whose pesky ghost boy is savagely played by little Garrett Masuda. This wing of the story also features the great Anna Faris, who's played the lobotomized Cindy Campbell in all four movies.
A lot of ''Scary Movie 4" borders on abusive. The sight of a catatonic Cloris Leachman banging her head on a shelf or the image of Leslie Nielsen waking up next to a goose in his bed feels evil. (Although seeing the real Dr. Phil get thwacked with a falling light fixture does tickle.) Faris and Bierko are consistently funny, however. Try as you might, you won't find dollar signs flashing in their eyes. They're excellent sports, and low-rent geniuses playing the parts of fools. Regina Hall shows up, too, wearing a pair of fabulous gongs in her ears. She got paid. And she obviously spent her money on those.
Like Faris, Hall has also been in all four editions. But her appearance here is most distressing, since she's such a reminder of the one thing not thrown into the ''Scary Movie 4" dumpster: point of view. The first two films, which were directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans and written, in part, by two of his brothers, were, amazingly, about how black people experience white people at the movies. Hall was frequently a riot as a token b-girl. This time around she's not funny so much as she is present and accounted for. But the woman is always interesting. She and Faris could be the Thelma and Louise of the movie-spoof business: Fearlessly driving off cliffs into God-knows-what, one disastrous sequel at a time.
Wesley Morris can be reached at email@example.com.