starring Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox Arquette, David Arquette, Parker Posey
screenplay by Ehren Kruger
directed by Wes Craven
by Bill Chambers Miramax "disinvited" online media from press screenings of Scream 3. They ostensibly feared that folks like me would write spoiler-filled reviews and post them prior to the film's February 4th release date--unsound reasoning. You see, 'net critics established enough to be on any sort of VIP list are professionals--Miramax surely knows the difference between an upstanding member of The On-Line Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the type of fanboy who submits spy reports to Ain't It Cool News. No, the 'mini major' was afraid we'd let a bigger cat out of the bag than whodunit: that Scream 3 is a dismal conclusion to the beloved (by this writer, at least) franchise.
Something smells rotten in the state of California right from the get-go: Cotton Weary (Liev Schrieber), the former lover and would-be killer of Maureen Prescott, Sidney's mother, is juggling phone calls in his luxury car. (Once considered a danger to society, Weary now hosts his own talk show, "100% Cotton"--a clever, if dated, jab at the American media cycle.) Of course, a new Ghostface dials him up, and, with memories of Scream's unbearably suspenseful prologue in mind, we immediately wonder: where is the killer? The backseat? The next car? Thrilling prospects, to be sure, but actually, Ghostface is at the Weary residence, waiting for Cotton's girlfriend (Kelly Rutheford) to get out of the shower. What's missing from this sequence, and indeed from Scream 3's remaining frights (most disappointingly, the moment when an ingenue (Jenny McCarthy) is forced to hide in a wardrobe room filled with Ghostface costumes, one of which might spring to life), is an elaborate and protracted payoff.
Our other surviving regulars have become estranged. Sidney (Neve Campbell) is living a paranoid existence of electronic gates and password-protected locks, while Dewey (David Arquette) acts as technical advisor on the second sequel to Scream 2's movie-within-a-movie, "Stab 3", and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox Arquette) headlines a tabloid news program. Murder reunites them, as knife-wielding Ghostface stalks the set of "Stab 3", imitating its sadistic screenplay--and his/her/their own personal draft climaxes with the death of Sidney Prescott.
The execution of Ghostface's master plan this time around is creaky, because screenwriter Ehren Kruger has invented a new mythology for Sidney's world far afield from what we'd come to understand in Scream and Scream 2. The movie gets in the silly habit of saying "All bets are off!" in reference to the "rules" of a trilogy's third act, but there's a difference between rule-breaking and cheating. With the departure of Kevin Williamson, who authored the previous Screams as well as a tidy outline for Scream 3 (that, for reasons incomprehensible to me, was ignored, save the notion of "Stab 3" and, apparently, a pomo sequence--perhaps not coincidentally, this film's best--that takes place on the "set" of Sidney's house from the first Scream), Kruger needed to be reined in tighter, and by Wes Craven, who knows from Krugers.
Craven barely seems to be minding the store in most respects. How else to explain the Jay and Silent Bob cameo (the slacker duo of Kevin Smith movies), akin to seeing Mickey Mouse pop up in Mulan and more distracting than funny. It pains me to write this, but Scream 3's comedy is generally laughless, with the exception of well-timed performances by Josh Pais (as a police detective possessed of the same personality he had as a persnickety teacher in Craven's Music of the Heart), Jamie Kennedy (resurrecting film geek Randy for the sendoff he was rather audaciously denied in Scream 2), and Parker Posey (through sheer force of will as a B-actress superficially modelled on Jennifer Aniston, presumably for the go-nowhere meta interactions with Cox Arquette).
The visuals are much weaker in part three as well, the occasional sweeping gesture of Peter Deming's camera a pale imitation of the stalking SteadiCam Craven has given us twice before. (And in the wake of Columbine, Craven toned down the violence significantly for Scream 3--why the sanctimony, when Scream and Scream 2 are still readily available on videostore shelves?) Finally, Marco Beltrami's music cues the suspense too blatantly--do you recall the intense chase at the college radio station in Scream 2? It's mostly silent. Sting notes are a whole lot more effective if they spring from nowhere; here, they act as the crescendos of an incessantly nerve-jangling score.
Scream 3 is a miscalculation on the order of The Godfather Part III or Superman III: It's less a sequel than it is excess verse on the perfect rhyming couplet. A nightmare instead of nightmarish, it will likely put the slasher movie back in mothballs. The film unintentionally follows the unspoken rule of a trilogy to a T: the third instalment must disappoint.