‘Scream 4'? ‘Rio'?: Give Me a Large Polo Mallet …

The big question about the new weekend at the cineplex: Why?

What I wouldn’t give for a large polo mallet.

“Scream 4.” Why? Because someone smells money in this tired old ghost.

“The Princess of Montpelier.” A generic costume drama from France about a pretty princess with lips to die for and the men who die for them.

“Henry’s Crime.” A romantic comedy about doing the time, then doing the crime.

“Rio.” Kids will love it. If you’re their sad-sack guardian, don’t do this one with a hangover — a hyperkinetic candy-colored assault on sobriety.

The thing about “Scream 4” is it can’t help but suck compared to the original. What made the first in the series so compelling isn’t the memorable characters or the unique plot, it was the meta-approach to the genre.

Characters talking about genre strictures and analyzing the movie as they went along was a refreshing, post-modern take on slasher films that had not been seen before.

How do you follow that? The short answer is you don’t. What set “Scream” apart was a stylistic premise which, by definition, defies the notion of a sequel. Sequels are based on characters and/or plot lines, not style. This is why all the “Scream” sequels are the same only worse, and it is why the latest installment is no different.

But never mind that. Most alarming is Wes Craven’s dull and uninspired stewardship. In the first movie, he constantly subverted genre clichés. In the new one, he relies on them. “Scream 4” looks like anyone could have made it.

No doubt the new movie will make a strong showing at the box office even though it doesn’t deserve to.

But let’s leave Hollywood for a moment and travel to 16th Century France where the Huguenots and the Papists are tearing each other apart without the benefit of ghost-face masks.

As for "“The Princess of Montpensier,”celebrated filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier adapted the 17th century novel, delivering a fine — and forgettable — movie.

The princess is newcomer Melanie Thierry, a woman of breath-taking beauty who is catnip to the prince, (her husband), Guise (her lover), Anjou (some Duke) and Comte Chalbanne, (her overseer).

In short, everybody wants the princess. But not everybody can have the princess; there’s the rub.

The new film offers a fine use of mise-en-scene, lovely landscapes and a pretty girl. But generally, “Princess” is a silly movie, what with everyone falling in love and poking each other with swords half the time; hardly as serious as its elegiac tone would imply.

Nor as serious as the new comedy “Henry’s Crime” by Malcolm Venville.

Keanu Reeves stars as Henry Torne, a hapless toll booth collector who goes to jail for a crime he didn’t commit: bank robbery. Upon his release, he commits a crime: bank robbery. To pull it off, the robbers join a production of “The Cherry Orchard” in the theater next door where a hidden tunnel leads to the bank’s vault.

What sounds like a zany caper picture with costumes, love and fortune waiting in the wings is played by director Venville as weighty stuff. This is his first comedy following his debut crime-drama, “44 Inch Chest,” and he seems determined to test his material by playing it as straight as he can. As a result, “Henry’s Crime” is always amusing but never flat out funny.

I suppose there’s nothing wrong with directing a comedy as though it were a drama. In fact, it’s a pretty amusing and original angle, but a broader approach might have brought a few more laughs.

Fox’s “Rio” could use a few more laughs, too. This story of a rare bird in search of his owner in Rio de Janeiro comes courtesy of the people who brought us the “Ice Age” movies, a mediocre trilogy that made a mint in the foreign market. Judging by early returns, “Rio” is poised to do the same.

Animators at Blue Sky Entertainment lovingly render the texture of feathers, forest and sunlight on water, but filmmaker Carlos Saldanha and his team go out of their way to distract their audience with chase scenes and zany musical numbers.

Jemaine Clement, as the bad bird, Nigel, wrote his own lyrics, making his song, “Pretty Bird” the film’s high point. Otherwise, “Rio” is an enervating ordeal, like you’ve just survived an explosion in a plush toy factory.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point” tells how programmers at “Sesame Street” and “Blue’s Clues” worked with child development experts to fine tune their shows. While kids often seemed bored or distracted by dialogue scenes, they were riveted by movement and color.

This seems to be the principle Saldanha and crew operate under.

However, further research shows kids are not bored by dialogue scenes unless they have trouble understanding them. Kids, it turns out, are every bit as interested in story and character as their parents are. Just keep it simple… not simp-ish.

That being said, my ten-year-old liked “Rio.” But what the hell does he know, he’s ten!

Of course he is being punished for his indiscretion: grounded for a week and force fed a steady diet of Pixar, early Disney, the Marx Brothers and Fritz Lang (what can I say, the kid likes German expressionism).

No doubt, “Rio” will deliver big at the box office this weekend, helped by the handful of critics Fox flew down to Rio de Janeiro earlier this month to help promote the picture: Woo-hoo! Open bar, but take your Dramamine. You’ll need it.