Scary Movie 3 (October 26/03)
It really doesn't take much to improve upon the Scary Movie franchise; the first film was semi-entertaining but mediocre, while the second one was just terrible. There wasn't a single laugh to be had in that sequel, and the whole thing felt as though it had been rushed into production in order to cash in on the original. Fortunately, the Wayans brothers have been fired and noted comedymeister David Zucker has taken the helm. And while the movie still isn't all that great, there are a number of big belly laughs to be found within.
Although screenwriters Craig Mazin and Pat Proft take aim at a variety of recent movies, The Ring, 8 Mile, and Signs are used to fill out the plot. Anna Faris returns as Cindy, the only remaining cast member from the first two films (along with a short lived appearance by Regina Hall), who's now working as a television reporter. After a crop circle appears next to a house owned by Tom (Charlie Sheen), Cindy begins to investigate and comes across a mysterious tape that kills anyone who watches it. Also thrown into the mix is George (Simon Rex), Tom's brother and an aspiring rapper, and Leslie Nielson as the befuddled American President.
Though the film gets off to a strong start - with Sheen's character taking center stage - the whole thing begins to peter out about halfway through. The problem is that the majority of the 8 Mile references fall flat, and since that aspect of the story eats up a good chunk of screentime, the movie inevitably goes from amusing to tiresome. Asking someone like David Zucker - a guy that's certainly over 50-years-old - to mine laughs within a culture he presumably knows nothing about likely has something to do with the tentative awkwardness that pervades these scenes.
But as clumsy as those sequences are, they still don't even come close to approaching the amateurishness that permeated every aspect of the two films that came before it. Zucker's an old pro at this sort of thing, and it shows. He understands that not every joke is going to work, and effectively packs the frame with throwaway gags that most viewers won't even notice. And while the film doesn't even come close to the sheer hilarity of Airplane! or The Naked Gun (two films he was involved with), Scary Movie 3 is a step in the right direction for this kind of comedy (ie the humor isn't of the gross-out variety).
Among the performers, only Sheen seems truly at home in this kind of atmosphere. Like Leslie Nielson and Peter Graves before him, he plays his role with deadpan earnestness; the absurdity of everything happening around him is not reflected in his performance, which is exactly the right note for this material. Faris and Nielson are expectedly quite good, though Nielson's age is beginning to creep up on him (an obvious face-lift has left him with a permanent smirk). Co-stars like Anthony Anderson and D.L. Hughley go for broke with performances that are far more broad than necessary, which - in the case of Anderson - isn't terribly surprising when you consider his oeuvre to date (Kangaroo Jack, anyone?)
Saying that Scary Movie 3 is better than its predecessors isn't exactly high praise, but at least it doesn't leave me dreading the inevitable Scary Movie 4.