A character in "Scream 3" explains that the normal rules don't apply in the third part of a trilogy, but he forgets to mention the other certainty.
The final chapter, while sometimes better than the second, never tops the first. "The Return of the Jedi," "The Godfather Part III" and now "Scream 3" -- all entertain and amuse in their own semi-derivative ways, but each, especially the latest, pales in comparison to the original brand name.
It's not that "Scream 3" is completely without merit. Neve Campbell, again playing eternally spooked heroine Sidney Prescott, nails the role in convincing fashion. She knows how to look scared, teary-eyed, emotionally drained (after all, she's suffered through three of these things) and utterly unsurprised at what's lurking behind the closet doors.
Also comfortably settled in their roles are Campbell's co-horts David Arquette, once again playing dopey ex-deputy Dewey Riley (now a technical adviser on the movie-within-a-movie "Stab 3: The Return to Woodsboro"), and Courteney Cox Arquette, as the ever intrepid reporter Gale Weathers. The couple's romance onscreen and off (they met during the first, dated during the second and were married by the third) is milked for warmth and laughs.
Missing from the third installment are many of original scribe Kevin Williamson's self-referential genre jokes and a lot of his energetic bravura. Series director Wes Craven and new screenwriter Ehren Kruger do their best to pump up the proceedings, but there's a certain kinetic thrill that's noticeably absent.
While "Scream 2" didn't deliver the goods as freshly as the original, the third is sorely lacking in irony. Some will measure that as a positive in this post "'Blair Witch'/'Sixth Sense'" era, but in this series, attitude is a major asset. Without the usual assortment of fresh-faced up-and-comers spouting off witticisms about "Carrie" and Jamie Lee Curtis (not even one joke about "Halloween: H20"), the movie loses its sharp edge twice as fast.
What's left is a familiar set-up, a lot of extended, skewer-and-shish kebob slayings and a surprise "twist" of an ending that's not really surprising. Nominally, the plot begins with a requisite "Scream" opening -- Liev Schreiber's Cotton Weary, once wrongly accused of being the series' killer, finds himself and his girlfriend (Kelly Rutherford) in grave danger. The difference here is the setting. The sequence takes place in an apartment in the middle of Hollywood, where Weary's now the host of a nationally syndicated talk show.
The killer's motive is a familiar one. For reasons that will eventually come to light, the killer wants to find and dispatch Sidney. To lure her out of hiding, he settles into a familiar pattern. One by one, the stars of "Stab 3" are picked off in gory "Scream"-like fashion.
By the time the candidates dwindle to Dewey and Gale, the series heroine is just about ready to ditch her identity as an anonymous counselor hiding out in the California wilderness. Besides saving her friends, she's ready to stop dwelling on the nightmares she suffers about her dead mom and that ghoul behind the ever-lingering Edvard Munsch mask. It's an ordeal Jamie Lee Curtis and "Aliens'" Sigourney Weaver can relate to.
The best thing about "Scream 3" (other than it being the last installment) is its casting. Parker Posey, playing the "Stab" version of Gale Weathers, is a hilarious, appropriately self-conscious siren every time she's onscreen. Wisely, her character sticks close to the real thing. That way, she reasons, if the killer shows up, he won't take her. He'll take out the real Weathers.
Also amusing is Lance Henriksen, an "Aliens" veteran cast as the "Stab 3" producer, and Jenny McCarthy as a ditsy actress who has a few problems with the killer and her cell phone. Most entertaining are cameos from Roger Corman and Carrie Fisher, who plays a library archivist who bears an eerie likeness to a certain star-crossed princess.
Composer Marco Beltrami again contributes a frightfully manic score, and cinematographer Peter Deming keeps the camera moving at a frantic pace. Although Craven's characters ignore a few too many obvious horror rules at the end, the director and his crew manage to generate a few genuine gasps and guffaws.
At its best, "Scream 3" is a fitfully engaging fright flick. But mostly, it functions as a serviceable headstone for the series, which can now finally rest in peace, dead and buried.
* MPAA rating: R, for strong horror violence and language
Neve Campbell: Sidney Prescott
Courteney Cox Arquette: Gale Weathers
David Arquette: Dewey Riley
Parker Posey: Jennifer Jolie
Liev Shreiber: Cotton Weary
A Dimension Films presentation of a Konrad Pictures production in association with Craven/Maddalena Films. Director Wes Craven. Producers Cathy Konrad, Kevin Williamson and Mariannae Maddalena. Executive producers Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Cary Granat and Andrew Rona. Screenplay by Ehren Kruger, based on characters created by Williamson. Cinematographer Peter Deming. Costumes Abigail Murray. Music Marco Beltrami. Production designer Bruce Alan Miller. Art director Tom Fichter. Set decorator Gene Serdena. Editor Patrick Lussier. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.