SCARY MOVIE 3.5 - DVD review

...the additional stuff makes the resultant movie a tad funnier and more resourceful than before and a mite more successful.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

A blurb on the first DVD edition of the "Scary Movie 3" keep case proclaimed "The funniest scary movie yet." Well, that was hardly a ringing endorsement if you'd ever seen the first two "Scary Movies." Now, a blurb on the keep case for "Scary Movie 3.5," the Special Unrated Version, announces "Raunchier, funnier, sexier!" It is, and, surprisingly perhaps, it helps.

I found the regular theatrical release of "Scary Movie 3" a bit sedate, more than a little gentle and genteel, and I found myself throughout wishing it had been more daring in its humor. I didn't necessarily want it to be more vulgar, but with "3.5" I get at least part of my wish. Although the new Unrated Version is only a minute longer than the first version, there is a good deal of substitution involved, alternate lines of dialogue and replacement shots used. You'll find a number of more daringly sexy gags and a few instances of profanity not found in the previous version. I know it may seem juvenile of me to say that the added raunch actually improves the movie, but given that the film is hardly more than a series of vaguely related jokes, anyway, yes, the added punch improves matters.

Let's begin with the movie. I didn't care for either of the "Scary Movie" films that preceded "Scary Movie 3," and while I didn't think this 2003 entry was spectacularly funny, either, I liked it better than its predecessors. There was something odd about this situation. The first pair of films were rated R for crude humor and sex, and even though this unrated version of the newer movie still contains much less grossness than the first two movies, it was the more questionable and outrageous parts of "Scary Movie 3.5" that made me laugh the loudest. Maybe sometimes just the right amount of raunch helps.

Like the other "Scary Movie" flicks, this one is a spoof of other horror 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 material for the gags. But if a parody spoofs films that are too new, it runs the risk of viewers not having seen the originals yet; and if a parody spoofs films that are too old, it runs the risk of younger viewers never having seen the source material. 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 3.5" tries to have it both ways by sticking mainly to a couple of tried-and-true scary films, "Signs" and "The Ring," rather than trying to reference a multitude of films to any extent as the previous "Scary Movies" did. 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. Nevertheless, if you have seen them, "Scary Movie 3.5" does a pretty good job imitating them and making light of their more harebrained characteristics.

The director of "Scary Movie 3.5" 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 previous film, "My Boss's Daughter," being a complete flop. True to form, in "Scary Movie 3.5" the director uses the same comedy 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 3.5" provides more laughs than most other comedies give us these days.

Anna Faris is back from the first two movies 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 also some minor jokes about other horror films, plus a host of cameos along the way. Among the additional films briefly sent up are "Scream," "Psycho," "The Others," "The Matrix," "The Sixth Sense," "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," Zucker's own "Airplane," and even a TV beer commercial, which is scariest of all.

Some of the more prominent supporting players include Regina Hall as Brenda Meeks, the kids' school teacher and Cindy's best friend; Anthony Anderson as Mahalik, a hip-hop disc jockey and George's best friend; and Kevin Hart as CJ, a rapper and everybody's friend.

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.

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 that the earlier Zucker films were successful in large measure because the people Zucker chose 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 3.5" 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. Now that the movie hasn't got to worry about a rating and is slightly edgier and more outlandish, I laughed a little harder and a bit more often at its daring.

Unfortunately, too much of the film, perhaps 90% of it, is still 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.

Even with the added and substituted material, I found "Scary Movie 3.5" an odd combination of the hip and the old-fashioned, but at least the additional stuff makes the resultant movie a tad funnier and more resourceful than before and a mite more successful.

The picture quality on the DVD remains the same, meaning it remains quite good, surprisingly good, in fact. Thanks to an anamorphic widescreen transfer that will easily fill out a 16x9 television and a fairly high bit rate, the image definition is sharp and the 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, as well as some light grain, undoubtedly inherent to the original negative. The video is a pleasure to look at.

The audio also remains 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.

The "3.5" version contains two new extras as well as the bonus items found on the previous edition. The most important new item is another audio commentary with director David Zucker, producer Robert K. Weiss, and writers Craig Mazin and Pat Proft. They are as funny and entertaining as before, but this time they explain why they had to exclude certain bits before to get a PG-13 rating and, of course, why they put them back in for the present DVD. There are also more deleted and extended scenes than ever, fourteen of them in all, six marked as "new," that may be played with or without the filmmakers' commentary.

The other extras are carried over from the first edition. There's a twenty-three minute "Making of Scary Movie 3" documentary and a four-minute "Making of Scary Movie 3...For Real" spoof documentary; about five minutes of outtakes and bloopers; a fifteen-minute alternate ending where George turns into the Incredible Hulk and more "Matrix" material is added; and a four-minute featurette, "Hulk vs. Aliens: Behind the Scenes of the Alternate Ending." Again, I found these supplemental materials as much fun as the feature film. The extras conclude with eighteen scene selections, plus a chapter insert; English and French spoken languages; Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
I admit I have a great fondness for Zucker's early films, and I found "Scary Movie 3.5" a familiar, if raunchier, throwback to those older efforts. I don't know if its now being unrated has helped matters enough for me to make an outright recommendation, but I do know I laughed out loud a number of times where I hadn't laughed before, which has to count for something.


Film Value