THREE IS ENOUGH. Variously billed as a "final chapter" or the conclusion of a trilogy (now they tell us), Scream 3 arrives like the last course of an enjoyable meal that you're too full to appreciate. It's certainly no better than the first two portions, especially now that the novelty's worn off.
directed by Wes Craven
with David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox Arquette, and Parker Posey
opens February 4 at Metro, Pacific Place, other local theaters
Adding to Scream 3's staleness, its three main characters are past their prime. Nice girl Sidney (Neve Campbell) is holed up in a remote home office, telecommuting with the outside world. Driven career gal Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox Arquette) is plying the overcrowded infotainment trade in Hollywood. We later learn how she dumped Dewey (David Arquette), who also turns up in LA as on-set security consultant to Stab 3—the sequel-within-a-sequel based on the original Woodsboro murders chronicled in 1996's Scream.
This further establishes the milieu for knowing in-jokes about slasher flicks and movies in general, and Scream 3 initially skates by on its all-the-world's-a-soundstage humor. Each of the three leads finds a Stab 3 double: Dewey's played by a hunk (Matt Keeslar); Sidney's portrayed by a bland nobody (Emily Mortimer); while only Gale gets the embodiment she deserves—a similarly high-strung, overbearing, self-centered actress named Jennifer. Parker Posey makes the most of this narcissistic mirror-image role. Several real-life Hollywood notables also furnish amusing cameos.
Initially, you don't miss the hand of Kevin Williamson, who originated and wrote the first two Scream pictures. Cox Arquette and Posey dominate the first act with their hate-at-first-sight feuding, each trying to outbitch the other. (Posey constantly invokes what "my Gale" would do.) Campbell's absent from so many scenes, and her big-screen charisma is so scant, that you wish Cox Arquette and Posey would simply hijack the film—as they very nearly do. Squabbling like Hope and Crosby (and competing for Dewey), they're forced into uneasy allegiance when it turns out that—of course—there's a new anonymous caller/ killer who begins butchering the cast of Stab 3. (A voice-disguising device ensures that no one is who they appear to be over the ubiquitous phone.)
WHAT DOES GHOSTFACE WANT? In a word: Sidney. She's the key to the movie—or rather, she's the key to all three movies, as she's forced to reexamine her family connection to past events. Therein lies the problem with Scream 3. The reliable laugh-scare-shock cycle has been unwisely expanded to include dysfunctional family melodrama. There's nothing truly interesting about Sidney, and nothing more for Campbell to do with her role than play it like a B-movie Linda Hamilton.
Although new screenwriter (Ehren Kruger) does manage many laughs by replicating the pop cultural teen prodigy tone of the first two Scream chapters, the guffaws grow scarce as the chases get longer and less motivated. We're treated to a sort of reprisal of Randy's memorable "rules" speech from the original Scream, but to little effect. As one confused character exclaims of the killer, "He's rewriting the movie!" It's a good joke, but it's really Scream, not Stab, that's been too many times through the rewrite mill.
As Sidney is nearly unhinged by nightmares and family secrets, psychodrama begins to edge out our nervous laughter. She worries that the "movies in your head" effect may be driving her batty. "The past will come back to bite you on the ass," we're told, but we recall the past two movies being funnier—not maudlin. Apparently director Wes Craven and his producers decided to opt for that hallowed storytelling convention of closure—at the expense of inventive entertainment.
Granted, Scream 2 also suffered from an energy letdown and set up themes left unexplored. Glibness was a strength in the first, fresh Scream, where entertainment trivia was wielded like a talisman against Ghostface. By the time the Scream 2 kids got to college, they were transformed from avid moviegoers to flippant film students. Now, finally, they're backstage, confronted with the very mechanisms and artifice of Hollywood.
Yet on the backlot, our three jaded heroes—dare we say adults?—squander the perfect opportunity to resolve the life-is-like-a-movie, appearance-reality dichotomy of their cinematic imaginations. We expect them to dissect the film. Instead, Scream 3 chooses to deconstruct the family.