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Scary Movie 3

On his deathbed, the great actor Edmund Kean supposedly uttered, "dying is easy. Comedy is hard." Comedy sequels are even harder. Just ask Tabitha (Marny Eng), the killer ghost girl stalking the frames of Scary Movie 3. If her long hair and shambling crawl out of a television set looks familiar, well, it should. We're not exactly in undiscovered country here.

The whole concept of doing sequels to parodies always seems a little dicey. Very few manage to find new life in a genre that the first was meant to beat to death. Making matters worse for Scary Movie 3, gone are the original masterminds, the Wayans Brothers +1.

To fill the vacuum, Dimension Films grabbed some of the true masters of the form, even though their recent track records haven't been that great. Then they added in a little Kevin Smith on the script, and came up with something that feels different, but somehow smarter in its dimbulb humor than ever before. It's still not exactly high art, but it's funny.

In some ways, it can't help but be smarter, as the film parodies horror movies that had higher aspirations than in the Wayans' efforts. Combining The Ring and Signs as the spine of the story, the real surprise is how all five writers managed to still keep it coherent. For a while, it even veers over into 8 Mile, a move that works, but depends an awful lot on audiences knowing exactly who the cameo-making rappers are.

Impressive, too, is that this third film actually maintains loose ties to the previous installments. Heroine Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris) now works as an anchorwoman at a big city television station devoted to sex, violence and weather. Though she's dyed her hair blonde in order to better stand in for Naomi Watts, Cindy is still the same earnest moron that survived two scary movies.

Also still around is Brenda Meeks (Regina Hall), now an elementary school teacher whose class includes Cindy's nephew. Though even creepier than the kid in The Ring, he provides one of the best running gags, combining psychic abilities with the inability to maintain an interior monologue.

New to the proceedings but no stranger to film parody, Charlie Sheen takes the Mel Gibson role with his usual gravity. Stuck on a farm being invaded by aliens, he battles his ne'er-do-well brother George (Simon Rex), who has dreams of being a successful white rapper.

The whole proceedings are kinder and gentler than before. Where The Wayans went for sex jokes, new director David Zucker would rather go for a non sequitir, all the better to keep the movie at a PG-13. But while it may not be as outrageous, it's still funny, with a lot of little throwaway lines that could make this a good home video favorite.

Zucker and his early partners really pioneered this stuff with Airplane!, and Scary Movie 3 has a lot of that same energy and verbal play. It also looks like it may close a chapter in the book by being a farewell for Leslie Nielsen. Near the end of the film, the veteran actor recreates a moment from the movie that first showed his comedy chops, and if it's a way of saying goodbye, it's pretty classy. Of course, if he shows up in Scary Movie 4, forget this paragraph ever happened.

Do you have to have seen the source movies? Zucker and company skewer The Ring so well that it's hard to say. Gore Verbinski's handling of the material provides more creeps than Scary Movie 3 tackles, but putting Jenny McCarthy and Pamela Anderson in the Catholic schoolgirl roles will now forever dim The Ring's opening. At one point, too, Cindy's TV station misuses the deadly tape in a way that you just know would actually happen in a ratings-obsessed world.

From what I've heard, Signs, too, deserves the slamming this movie gives it. But most of the scenes do stand on their own. If any jokes are too inside, it's really more because you need to recognize the people, not the movies. (See the rappers above - at least Fat Joe gets identified.)

So what the heck. It's pure junk, no defending it as anything else. But as sheer entertainment, it works. And if you go with friends, you'll have a lot of stuff to laugh over later on the drive home.


Derek McCaw

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