NOW PLAYING Scary Movie 3

Posted: Monday, October 27, 2003

I have a theory about movies and their relative level of quality. Relative to what, you might ask? Relative to one's expectations. The more you look forward to a movie, the more you hope and pray that this time they'll get it right, the more likely you are to be sorely disappointed. On the other hand, if you expect a movie to be an utter waste of time, you are likely to be pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, I didn't take my own theory to heart when forming my expectations for the latest in the Scary Movie trilogy, and I paid the price.

I had high expectations, yes, but they weren't without cause. Scary Movie 3, while ostensibly being a sequel to the first two Scary Moviesv, is so in name only. Having ditched the Wayans brothers, who proved that, after the first SM, they were totally out of ideas (SM2 was truly awful), SM3 gained a name that is known the world over for quality spoofs and parody - Zucker. You remember David Zucker from Airplane and Top Secret among others, which he directed with his brother Jerry and Jim Abrahms. Together, those guys were a powerhouse, so, of course, some of it must have rubbed off on Dave. Not necessarily.

SM3 follows the basic plots of The Ring, Signs, and 8 Mile, among others, happily skewering and riffing all the way along. A young newscaster gets a hot tip about aliens creating mysterious (like, for example, a giant "Attack Here" sign) crop circles, all the while trying to understand why her weirdly prescient son is drawing spooky little girls all over his notebook. Meanwhile, Charlie Sheen plays a former priest who has lost his faith after the death of his wife, and lives a quiet existence with his daughter and younger brother who longs to be a rap champion. The plot, however, is strictly sideline, and the movie drops in and out of it whenever it feels like it. That's to be expected, however, and really causes no harm. What causes the harm is something else entirely.

In order to understand why a movie like Scary Movie 3 doesn't work, we have to understand why similar movies succeed. To begin with, the writers have to be willing to take some chances. Without some risk, some edge, what's the point of watching? Scary Movie took all kinds of chances, and it was a smash hit. Scary Movie 2 also took chances, but it was so poorly written and performed, that nothing could save it. Scary Movie 3, however, takes no chances and winds up feeling sanitized.

Airplane, Top Secret, and the first couple of Naked Gun movies were so good; so funny, clever, and quick. But they weren't successful based solely on these characteristics. The writers of those movies were smart enough to know that you can't give the audience downtime in movies like these. It should be laugh a minute, and the audience should have to rewind to pick out parts they missed. They layered joke upon joke, upon joke, until you were simply unable to stop laughing. There was something for everyone: Like clever wordplay and puns? They're all there. Like gross-out humor? That's there too. There would be four jokes running at any one moment, and it was great. SM3, however much it wants to be a part of the group, is unable to layer the jokes. Each segment in this film stands alone, and you have to wade through jokes you don't like, in the hopes that a better one will come along.

Also, the aforementioned successful series had something else in common. They were spoofing genres, rather than specific movies, and, as a result, were free to make any joke they wanted without having to be married to the movie they were parodying. Scary Movie 3, while giving us some pretty funny scenes, runs into a major problem with imagination. Each scene is a spoof of a particular movie, and, after awhile, that gets old. What this movie needed was to mix it up a little, instead of being so dedicated to its source material.

Scary Movie 3 has a few funny bits, and for the most part, keeps the pace clipping along. However, when a fight, whose purpose is to be funny, goes on for a full 6 or 7 minutes, the audience begins to get bored. A bevy of stars and cameos can't save this movie, though it's not actually all that bad. Comedy is hard to do, granted, but a mere twenty years ago, three young funny directors mastered the whole genre. I think the creators of Scary Movie 3 need to take a lesson from these old movies, and, next time, don't be afraid to go for it. Grade: C-

Scary Movie 3 is rated PG-13 for minor language, and violence.

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