Film Review: “Scream 4″ doesn’t live up to legacy

Tom Andrew and Tom Andrew

The first “Scream” debuted 15 years ago and after a 10 year absence, lots of plastic surgery, and a few different scripts, the fourth film in the franchise has opened. But will we care?

As with all of the “Scream” films, the first sequence opens with a scene in which someone dies at the hands of Ghostface, the killer in all the “Scream” films. In the first film it was Drew Barrymore, the second featured Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett Smith and the third offered Liev Schreiber and Kelly Rutherford.

In the opening sequence of “Scream 4″ what could have been clever only becomes muddied. By the time we get to the reason this sequence exists we really don’t care. It doesn’t matter that Kristen Bell, Anna Paquin and Brittany Robertson are in the sequence, it takes too long and isn’t suspenseful.

After that is over we see that heroine Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is back in her hometown to promote her first book, coincidentally on the anniversary of when the first killings took place. Once in town she is reunited with Sherriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and his wife Gale Weathers-Riley (Courteney Cox). It is then that Ghostface starts making his trademark phone calls and people close to Sidney start to die.

Sidney is staying with her aunt Kate (Mary McDonnell) and her niece Jill (Emma Roberts) while she is in town, and it’s through Jill that we are introduced to her high school friends. Most notable are Charlie, Trevor, Robbie, and Kirby (Rory Culkin, Nico Tortorella, Erik Knudsen, and Hayden Panettiere). They are your typical high school kids, from geek to prom queen.

The body count is up and the blood flows freely, but the plot is probably the weakest of all “Scream” films to date. Without a clear aggressive destination, the film starts and stops many times, and by the end we are not so convinced of the reasoning behind the killer’s motives.

What made the franchise so great to begin with was the fact that the women may have ended up as victims, but they fought their asses off before their demise. In “Scream 4″, with the exception of Sidney, most die without much of a struggle or fight. The other films also had humor on their side. While there are a few funny moments and one-liners, it pales by comparison to the earlier films.

Campbell is good. She is very comfortable playing Sidney and it shows. She takes command of every scene she is in which is why a great deal of the films works.

Arquette and Cox, had a great comic edge with their characters in the first three films. In this one they are struggling with a shaky marriage, but the old spark just isn’t there like it used to be.

Panettiere all but steals the film. She completely holds her own opposite the likes of Campbell, Cox and Arquette and then some. It’s too bad some of her cohorts couldn’t have taken the hint and stepped up to the plate as well.

Director Wes Craven may be getting a little soft in his old age. The film doesn’t move as swiftly as the first three. The aggressive edge seems to be gone. Kevin Williamson’s script doesn’t have the wit the others had, and the main plotline is the weakest in the series.

Diehard “Scream” fans will be glad to see the series has been revived, but with “Scream 5 and 6″ tentatively scheduled for filming one can only hope things will improve. Otherwise this franchise will go from a scream to a groan.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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