The Godfather. Alien. Star Wars. If even those classic films couldn't give us decent pictures past the first sequel, what chance does Scary Movie have? To be fair, there are some laughs in this latest installment of the Mad magazine-like series that began in 2000. David Zucker and Craig Mazin-who took over as director and primary writer, respectively, with the third installment, succeeding creators Shawn and Marlon Wayans-know their way around comedy; there wouldn't even be a Scary Movie franchise without Zucker's own co-creation, Airplane! Teaming up here with his Airplane! co-pilot, Jim Abrahams, and Mazin, producer-director of the near-miss superhero spoof The Specials, Zucker sticks to his tried-and-true scattershot approach: If you don't like this one joke, hang on, 'cuz there are another ten coming in a minute.

It's only when Zucker and company forget that process, in fact, that Scary Movie 4 becomes scary for unintended reasons. Having gone to the screening with 14-year-old Erik Lovece-one of the film's presumably young-male-teen target audience-my perspective was confirmed: He laughed at a lot of jokes that seemed well-worn to me, as I expected, but was equally put off by such overextended gross-out routines as Carmen Electra, playing the blind girl in a spoof of The Village, mistakenly walking into a town-hall meeting and using an open chest as a toilet, replete with enough fecal flatulence to make the bean scene in Blazing Saddles seem like My Dinner with Andre.

Series perennial Anna Faris returns as waifish innocent Cindy Campbell, now working as a home-care aide to a catatonic woman (Cloris Leachman) in a haunted house a la The Grudge. Also returning is Regina Hall as Brenda Meeks, who died in the previous installment. This is handled with an ingeniously simple, "Brenda! I thought you were dead!" "I thought you were dead!" OK, that's settled, let's move on.

The string of a plot has Cindy living next door to Tom Ryan (Craig Bierko), who fills the Tom Cruise slot from War of the Worlds. They meet and separate as alien tripods attack-he hoping to drive to safety with his kids (Beau Mirchoff and the marvelous next-Dakota Fanning, Conchita Campbell), she trying to find the father of the Grudge ghost-child, said father ostensibly having the secret to defeating the aliens. All roads lead to Saw.

The broadsides are broad indeed, and obvious-can we please pass a moratorium on Michael Jackson jokes? They're old, old old-but there are a few gems. The classic routine of our heroes pulling two passersby into a bush in order to beat them up and steal their clothes gets a funny twist, the similarity between "tripod" and "iPod" gets a go, and there's probably nothing you can't make funny with the chorus to Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back." And Charlie Sheen's opening cameo-involving a blimp-like reaction to a Viagra overdose, some knocked-over knickknacks, and a cat-proves a surprisingly funny bit of silent-movie slapstick. But then the big finish-with Tom Ryan jumping around on a faux Oprah talk show-just doesn't work because the real-life behavior is already so over-the-top.

It's also another example of the type of unwieldy, overextended gag that just stops everything short. There'll probably be another Scary Movie in one or two years' time, parodying the supernatural fare of 2007 and whatever else catches the filmmakers' fancy-the hardly scary Brokeback Mountain and Million Dollar Baby get their lumps-but at what point do the Scary Movies begin to parody themselves?

-Frank Lovece