"The funniest scary movie yet" proclaims a blurb on the keep case. Yes, well, that's hardly a ringing endorsement if you've ever seen the first two "Scary Movie" flicks.
But I'm the wrong guy to ask about the "Scary Movie" franchise. I didn't care for either of the earlier films, and while I didn't think this 2003 entry was spectacularly funny, either, I liked it better than its predecessors. There's something odd about this situation, too. The first pair of films were rated R for crude humor and sex. This one is rated PG-13 and contains much less grossness. Yet it was the more questionable and outrageous parts of "Scary Movie 3" that made me laugh the loudest. Go figure.
Like the other "Scary Movie" movies, this one is a spoof of other scary movies, which can cause a few problems for the viewer. In order for a parody to come off well, the audience should be aware of what's being poked fun at, and that usually means using well-known subject matter for the gags. But if a parody spoofs films that are too old, it not only runs the risk of being old hat, it runs the risk that younger viewers may not have seen them; and if a parody spoofs films that are too new, it runs the risk that viewers might not have seen the originals yet. Damned if you do, and damned if you don't. Maybe this is why filmmakers steer clear of parody altogether, and why even Mel Brooks gave up on the genre.
Anyway, "Scary Movie 3" tries to have it both ways by mainly sticking to two tried-and-true but recent scary films, "The Ring" and "Signs," rather than trying to reference the multitude of movies the previous "Scary Movies" attempted. But when I say "tried-and-true" I may be overly optimistic because I know quite a few people who have never seen either one of the targeted films. Still, if you have seen them, "Scary Movie 3" does a pretty good job imitating them and making light of their more harebrained aspects.
The director of "Scary Movie 3" is not Keenen Ivory Wayans, who did the first two films, but David Zucker, famous for "Airplane," "Top Secret," and "The Naked Gun." This appeared to me at first blush quite a change from the earthy, barbed wit of Wayans, especially since time seems to be catching up to Zucker, his last film, "My Boss's Daughter," a complete flop. True to form, in "Scary Movie 3" the director uses the same comedic style he honed in his early parodies, using any number of cameo appearances by well-known and not-so-well-known actors playing it straight, and then throwing in a legion of dumb jokes so fast that at least some of them are bound to hit home. Indeed, some of the jokes do strike fire. I'd say it's a relationship of about ten misses to every hit. Still, with hundreds of jokes tossed out, it means "Scary Movie 3" still provides more laughs than most comedies give us these days.
Anna Faris is back again as Cindy Campbell, the eternally virginal, perpetually mystified heroine, this time a TV news reporter with a nephew, Cody (Drew Mituska), who has visions. Actually, Cody has the best deadpan lines in the film as his premonitions always tend to take people aback. "Smoke all you want," he tells one fellow, "you're going to get hit by a bus." It is Cindy and the boy, naturally, who get involved with a haunted videotape. "Seven days, my precious," intones a voice on the phone, sounding like Gollum from "The Lord of the Rings."
Playing concurrently with this plot thread is a second one involving Charlie Sheen as Tom Logan, an ex-priest turned farmer who finds crop circles in his corn fields. Living with him is his dingbat brother, George (Simon Rex), whose dream is "to have a dream." George, who displaces Tom as the leading male character about halfway through the film, thinks he's black and wants to be a rap star. The two men care for Tom's little girl, Sue (Jianna Ballard), who is in the same grade-school class as Cody, and thus makes the connection among the main characters.
Mostly, the story line is a flimsy excuse to throw around some "Ring" and "Signs" gags, the movie carefully imitating the originals to the letter; but there are also a slew of minor jokes about other horror films, plus a host of cameos along the way. Among the additional films sent up are "Psycho," "The Others," "The Matrix," "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," even a TV beer commercial, which is scariest of all.
Among the cameos are those from Pamela Anderson and Jenny McCarthy, mimicking the teens in the opening scene of "The Ring"; Leslie Nielsen as a dim-witted President of the United States; Queen Latifah as Aunt Shaneequa, doing a take on the Oracle from "The Matrix"; George Carlin as the Architect, also a bit from "The Matrix"; Jeremy Privin as Ross Giggins, a dingbat news anchor; Denise Richards as Annie, Tom's dead wife; and so on.
Among the more prominent supporting players are Regina Hall as Brenda Meeks, the kids' school teacher and Cindy's best friend; Anthony Anderson as Mahalik, a disc jockey and George's best friend; and Kevin Hart as CJ, a rapper and everybody's friend.
All of these performers do well, of course, especially Pamela Anderson and Jenny McCarthy because they're so paradoxically unsuited for their roles. But the fact is the earlier Zucker films were successful in large measure because the actors chosen to do the comedy were not comedians; people like Peter Graves, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, and George Kennedy were serious dramatic actors doing their lines straight and thereby making them all the funnier. In "Scary Movie 3" a person like George Carlin does a fine job, but we expect him to be funny. Think of how much more amusing the Architect would have been if performed by, say, Paul Newman or Martin Sheen or Omar Sharif.
Some of the film's gags work because, as I said, there are so many of them to go around. I found myself laughing out loud several times during the film, most often when the material was least appropriate and most offensive, like during a flashback of Tom's wife's death; then during a funeral wake; and again during a news broadcast of an alien invasion. Maybe if the movie had not worried so much about meeting a PG-13 rating and had tried to be edgier and more outlandish, I would have laughed harder and more often.
Unfortunately, too much of the film, perhaps 90%, is simply silly slapstick. Many of the jokes are telegraphed so far in advance, they lose all force by the time they arrive, the potential humor replaced by instant groans. A crop circle spelling out "Attack Here" and a sketch about Michael Jackson are too obvious to have much effect on our funny bone. Worse, a lengthy rap competition stops the movie in its tracks.
"Scary Movie 3" turns out to be an odd combination of the old-fashioned and the hip. I found it too awkward a combination to be entirely successful.
The picture quality on the DVD is quite good, surprisingly good, in fact. Thanks to a 1.74:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen transfer made at a fairly high bit rate, the image definition is sharp and colors are deep and rich. About the only negative characteristics I noticed were some minor moiré effects, showing up in brick walls and car grilles, and some light grain, undoubtedly inherent to the original negative. The video is a pleasure to look at.
The audio is also impressive. The Dolby Digital 5.1 reproduction is often put to good service by conveying strong dynamics, solid impact, deep bass, and excellent channel separation. Directionality in the rear speakers is especially impressive, with ambient sounds like thunder, crowd noises, and various creaks and moans coming from all directions. Needless to say, a good deal of musical reinforcement is served up from the surrounds as well.
There are as many extras on this regular-edition disc as there are in most special-edition sets. The first item is the usual audio commentary, this one with director David Zucker, producer Robert K. Weiss, and writers Craig Mazin and Pat Proft. More important is a series of ten deleted scenes with optional commentary, a segment that includes a fifteen-minute alternate ending where George turns into the Incredible Hulk and more "Matrix" material is added. Then, there are about five minutes of outtakes and bloopers; a four-minute "Hulk vs. Aliens: Behind the Scenes of the Alternate Ending" featurette; a twenty-three minute "Making of Scary Movie 3" documentary; and a four-minute "Making of Scary Movie 3...For Real" spoof documentary. I found these supplemental materials as much fun as the feature film, maybe more so. The extras conclude with eighteen scene selections; English and French spoken languages; Spanish subtitles, and English captions for the hearing impaired.
I admit to having a great fondness for Zucker's early films, and I found "Scary Movie 3" a familiar throwback to those older efforts. But I also found "Scary Movie 3" more than a bit sedate, more than a bit gentle and genteel, and I found myself throughout wishing it had been more daring in its humor. I don't know if an R rating would have helped matters, but even the movie's bashing of the physically challenged seemed tame and uninspired, so maybe an R wouldn't have hurt. Nevertheless, I don't suppose that's Zucker's style. He's basically still doing "Airplane" for the twenty-first century. I wish him well.