What’s That Smell?


As the introductory, Drew Barrymore-ish victim of the Wayans brothers’ Scary Movie, Carmen Electra qualifies her idea of horror films to the gravelly voiced mystery caller with an incredulous “Ever seen Shaq act?” By the time the berobed psycho stabs her in the breast, extracting a fat silicone implant bag, I’m thinking Dennis Rodman is destined to show up under the Scream mask. Parodying self-parody has become something of a bottom-shelf cultural staple for American entertainment media; if you accept that many original slasher movies already began with a clear idea of how absurd they were, then the Wayans boys (stars and coscripters Marlon and Shawn, director Keenan Ivory) are working at several removes from their proposed ground zero. Indeed, the redundant Scary Movie (Kevin Williamson’s original Scream script title) is a big, stupid bull with bodacious tits, but that’s not to say it doesn’t dish out some lite hardy-hars, particularly when Shannon Elizabeth (as the school ditz) sasses the killer even as her head comes off and self-denying football queer Shawn dresses his girlfriend up in helmet and gear and calls her “Brendan” in mid hump.

But labored, Naked Gun-ish quotes from The Matrix, The Blair Witch Project, and The Usual Suspects merely congratulate us for recognizing them, and the only thing the Wayans have to spike is the new teen films’ tendency toward sexless, dopeless whitewash. Crazy with penises and spliffs, Scary Movie is actually closer to American teendom, though hardly close enough to dissuade some future numbskull from continuing the circle jerk and parodying genre parodies, and so on.

Canadian mezzo-brow Jeremy Podeswa specializes in circle jerks, too, but of a wholly different stripe: portentous sand castles designed as structuralist Kieslowski/Egoyan rondeaux. But his ideas are trite: Eclipse (1995) followed a circular path of dull sexual encounters centered upon, for no meaningful reason, a solar eclipse, while his new film, The Five Senses, presents yet another haphazard tapestry in which individuals and their stories are, God help us, represented by the ear, the eye, the nose, et cetera. (“The senses are elemental,” Podeswa is quoted in the press notes, “and in connecting us to the world, they connect us to others,” a rumination so inflated and idiotic it evokes Ed Wood.) So, we get a gay house cleaner (Daniel MacIvor) who can smell true love, an optometrist (Philippe Volter) who experiences things mostly by hearing, a hesitant cake designer (Mary-Louise Parker) whose food lacks flavor, et cetera. The only thread that overshadows the lumbering conceit involves a missing child, lost by a teenage malcontent (the arresting Nadia Litz, whose secretive brooder could be the central figure in another, more attentive movie) babysitting in the park. Because the situation (dominated by the child’s shattered mother, played by Molly Parker) is so painful, shrill, and chaotic, it feels real in a way Podeswa couldn’t rein in. Beautifully shot and littered with disquieting character business, the film is hog-tied by its own bad Big Idea. At least Peter Greenaway used to be funny and original with his structures; grave and self-important, Podeswa thinks clichés are the path to enlightenment.