"Scream 4" review: Cliches unmasked

Courteney Cox is shown in a scene from "Scream 4."
AP Photo/Dimension Films-The Weinstein Company
Courteney Cox is shown in a scene from "Scream 4."
AP/Dimension Films

(CBS) Get ready for more laughs than screams. Wes Craven's franchise is back in theaters after an 11-year gap between sequels. It's been almost 15 years since the first film redefined the genre.

While the first two films valiantly attempted to rise above the widespread cliches of both older and modern slasher flicks, "Scream 4" embraces them fully, with (just barely) satisfactory results.

The scares are so-so (though much better in comparison with 2000's sub-par "Scream 3"), but the humor and social commentary saves the show. If you go in expecting to watch something that's perhaps more "Scary Movie" than the first "Scream," you should leave the theater entertained. A New York audience at a recent screening found plenty to cheer for.

Pictures: "Scream 4" premiere

The saving graces of "Scream 4" are its intelligent opening and surprise ending (isn't there always a twist?), which go out of their way to provide commentary on the latest advances in technology and communication, with repeated stabs at social networking and webcasts. These observations are funny when viewed through the lens of Courteney Cox's character Gale Weathers, who so desperately attempts to get involved in the mix. The term '"meta" is thrown around a lot, and it's funny to see Gale try to use the term herself.

Neve Campbell is back as protagonist Sidney ("What good is it to be a survivor when everyone close to you is dead?," asks villain Ghostface). Also returning are regulars David Arquette as now-Sherriff Dewey along with former journalist-turned-bored-wife, Gale (Cox). It's kind of enjoyable to see this trio of seasoned veterans interact with a new generation of high school students who are waiting to either be unmasked as the killer or slashed up as a victim. Emma Roberts plays Sidney's teenage cousin Jill, whose friends (Hayden Panettiere and Rory Culkin among others) stand at the center of the action. Noted performances include the always-engaging Alison Brie ("Mad Men," "Community") as Sidney's conniving publicist and Mary Shelton ("Grindhouse," "Sin City") as a creepy cop.

With its many references to the movie-within-a-movie "Stab" and frequent allusions to past kills, the film will undoubtedly deliver for its "die-hard" fans but "Scream 4" is no horror masterpiece. It knows what it is and remains content with being the fourth installment in a series that stands on the brink of generating future sequels in the same vein as the "Friday The 13th" franchise.

Now, that's frightening.

Watch the CBSNews.com report on "Scream 4" and Hayden Panettiere here:

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    Ken Lombardi is an entertainment reporter for CBS News. He has interviewed over 300 celebrities, including Clint Eastwood, Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks.