David Zucker learned the hard way comedy audiences don’t want a 90-minute lecture. They just want to laugh.
The comedy legend’s An American Carol proved a rare commercial misstep for Zucker, best known for Airplane!, The Naked Gun trilogy and the last two Scary Movie installments.He tells Big Hollywood that Carol, a takedown of both Michael Moore and the left, ended up “too preachy” and didn’t offer enough entertainment.
He’s on more familiar ground with the fifth installment of the Scary Movie franchise, opening April 12, which tweaks the Paranormal Activity films, Black Swan, Inception and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Zucker, one of the industry’s few outspoken conservatives, says Scary Movie 5 still needed something extra, a film to focus the plot and “give us a real bad guy horror monster.”Enter Mama, the January horror release featuring a feral beast stalking two young girls and their new parents.
Scary Movie 5 follows a distressed couple (Simon Rex, Ashley Tisdale) who seek professional help when they fear their house is haunted. Tabloid darlings Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan have cameos in the film, which also stars Katt Williams, Terry Crews and Jerry O’Connell.
Zucker credits casting Tisdale to his 10-year-old daughter, who suggested the beautiful actress while watching her in High School Musical.
“I started to think of a reason why not, and I said, ‘why not?'” he recalls, citing Tisdale’s tenure in the musical series as well as her work in several sitcoms.Of course, sitcom acting is hardly the best preparation for a Zucker film. His brand of parody demands actors play it straight–think Leslie Nielsen’s sober performance in Airplane! as the perfect Zucker template.
Zucker served as Scary Movie 5‘s producer, but his fingerprints are all over the production.
“[Director] Malcolm [Lee] had never done a comedy like this before, and I was there every day on the set, every minute, guiding things,” he says. Parody is a lot more technically complicated than it looks, he says.
“The secret is not to be seduced by the sheer number of movies to be spoofed,” he explains. “It always comes back to making a movie that has characters with a clear arc and structure.”
That said, “you’re only as good as the movies you spoof,” he adds.
Zucker likely won’t be revisiting An American Carol, but he has no qualms using his art in the political arena again. He mercilessly mocked former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for her appeasement stance toward North Korea and later poked fun at Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) for her infamous, “call me Senator” admonition.
“I loved the commercials. I can concentrate on those,” he says. “The left doesn’t have a sense of humor about themselves, and the right doesn’t go to movies.”