Review in a Hurry: Scream 4 may not be the best-made movie in Wes Craven's series, but it is the most entertaining. Riffing on its own clichés as much as anybody else's, this third sequel is buoyed by a surprisingly witty screenplay, though it's admittedly more giggly than gory.
The Bigger Picture: Has screenwriter Kevin Williamson gotten vastly better in the decade between this Scream and its last predecessor? Or is it that our sensibilities have been so assaulted by the brain-dead smorgasbords of the Scary Movie sequels—and the dreadful Date/Epic/Disaster movies they spawned—that adding even a touch of wit to the mix now feels like genius? Regardless, the outcome is a welcome return for the Ghostface killer, who this time appears to be patterning a series of murders around the idea of a horror remake.
Time has passed in the small town of Woodsboro. Dorky Dewey (David Arquette) is now the sheriff, married to former tabloid journalist Gale (Courteney Cox) who struggles with writer's block since Sidney (Neve Campbell) has taken her place atop the bestseller charts. The Stab movie franchise, initially based on Gale's books, now boasts seven increasingly ludicrous installments, which nonetheless inspire a whole new generation of cinema nerds at the high school.
When Sidney comes back through town on a book tour, it isn't long before a body count follows. But just as the rules of horror movies have evolved, so has the killer...whoever it may be.
While prior films in this series often seemed like they were spinning their wheels, killing time till the inevitable surprise revelation of the killer's identity, Scream 4 has much more effective pacing that never gets too dull. As usual, there are so many red herrings—including at least one which makes zero sense in retrospect—that it's impossible to guess the villain (though "torture porn" is briefly dissed, we'll politely point out that the Saw movies actually do plant legitimate clues for the viewer to pick up on). That said, at least the killer's motives make sense this time, as opposed to the absurd retroactive continuity of Scream 3.
In the meantime, everything is fair game for satire, from the real life relationship issues of Cox and Arquette to the fact that the three major characters have all-too-often magically recovered from seemingly fatal wounds. Hayden Panettiere and Emma Roberts are standouts among the new teen characters, while Adam Brody and a drastically slimmed-down Anthony Anderson get some good moments to muse on the role of cops in these movies.
Comparing this to Craven's recent bummer My Soul to Take, it's clear that he's only as good as the script he works with. Thankfully, he found himself a smart and funny one this time.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Neve Campbell looks as good as ever, but her acting's still lightweight. For a scream queen, she barely registers as a presence.