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Scream 4

Old Ghostface is at it again.

Slashing the necks of wisecracking teenagers who possess vocabularies much older than their years has been the M.O. for the melty-masked killer for over a decade now, and just when we thought we’d seen the last of him, Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson trot out the old franchise one more time.

The original “Scream” was a pop-culture phenomenon, hitting theaters at just the right moment. Horror films were dying on the vine and Williamson and Craven gave the genre the injection it needed. Combining a knowing sense of irony and a healthy dose of bloody violence, the film connected with both critics and audiences – a rare occurrence.

As these things go, sequels were inevitable and with each one, the quality of the “Scream” films diminished. The franchise has been in hibernation for a decade, and now, sensing a need to rejuvenate the genre – which has since become littered with faux-reality and torture-porn entertainments – the original Scream-team is back.

And I’m not sure it was worth it.

Things seem sure-footed at the beginning, with the requisite Ghostface-makes-a-phone-call-and-attacks-an-unwitting-special-guest-actress-scene. Only this time, they’ve upped the stakes and it’s a doozy and fun sequence.

Sadly, it becomes a bit “been there, done that” from this point on.

As in real life, ten years have passed and Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell, looking terrific) returns to the scene of the crimes, promoting her new book and reconnecting with her longtime pals, Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale (Courteney Cox). Of course, it isn’t long after her arrival that the bodies start piling up.

Williamson and Craven know that teens today aren’t interested in a bunch of middle-aged folks being stalked by a killer, so they shift the action to the current crop of smart-mouthed high-schoolers, led by Sidney’s niece, Jill (Emma Roberts, real-life niece of Julia Roberts).

And it’s here where the film takes on a certain laziness, settling in to bad habits learned from the earlier outings. Rather than taking a new approach to the material, it simply turns into a series of clumsy set-pieces: victim gets a phone call, does something stupid, gets chased by the killer and gets knifed to death.

There is (as always) the “whodunit” element of the story, where everyone’s a suspect. But this doesn’t really work when all of the characters are so interchangeable and we don’t have any kind of investment in them. The rumors stating the script was written as it was being filmed seem to support this notion.

When all is said and done, the killer is revealed and we all shout out a big “so what?”

I was actually looking forward to this film and by ten minutes in, I asked myself why. Sure, some of it still works and I jumped once or twice, but overall, I cannot help but feel a deep disappointment. Here are a talented group of filmmakers who could have taken the time to really change up the genre once again, but simply chose to go for the easy money.

Somebody put a knife in this franchise. Please!!

SCREAM 4. Dir: Wes Craven; SCR: Kevin Williamson; STARS: Neve Campbell, David Arquette. Rated R.