Directed by: David Zucker
Starring: Anna Faris, Charlie Sheen, Leslie Nielsen, George Carlin, Queen Latifah
All right, so it ain't art. It's a parody. And parodies -- as separate from outright satire -- are almost never art.
In this instance, that's a good thing, since the main targets of this latest -- and new-and-improved -- Scary Movie entry are hardly significant enough to deserve satire.
The closest the movie gets to really skewering anything or anyone are moments where it goes after the increasingly preachy and self-important director M. Night Shyamalan, whose next film better be in wide-screen format if he plans on making his name any bigger than it was on Signs. Since Signs and The Sixth Sense (also directed by Shyamalan) are among Scary Movie 3's parodied films, his prime-target status is not too surprising. But it's telling that Scary Movie 3 director David Zucker and company go after Shyamalan with unalloyed venom, while merely spoofing the movie's other primary sources -- The Ring, 8 Mile, and, to a lesser degree, The Matrix films. (Post-production reworking may enter into the short-changing of the latter movie, since the Matrix-inspired scene between Queen Latifah and Eddie Griffin in the trailer has nothing to do with the scene that made the film's final cut. The setting, the situation, even Latifah's name is different from the footage used to hawk Scary Movie 3.)
Certainly, Shyamalan is the only actual director to be taken on -- character points are scored off Eminem and Mekhi Pfifer for 8 Mile, and The Ring provides the central parodied plot. Regular readers of this column will immediately understand why this reviewer was doubled over with delight at George Carlin (standing in for The Ring's Brian Cox) explaining just how the evil videotape that causes death seven days after watching it made its way into the world at large. (I can say no more.)
All in all, Scary Movie 3 improves on its predecessors by more or less managing to weave its principal targets into a moderately cohesive story. Also, Zucker -- and co-producer and uncredited writer Kevin Smith -- bring an air of freshness to the proceedings. Zucker is a better filmmaker than Keenen Ivory Wayans, and the script is less leering and less propelled by repetitive drug jokes -- and the idea that swearing is inherently funny -- than the earlier entries. Some of this is obviously the result of gearing the movie to a PG-13 rating.
Oddly, though, by aiming at a broader audience, Scary Movie 3 is, finally, more sneakily subversive than all the bad language and dope-toking of its R-rated ancestors. Nonetheless, there's an intrinsic problem with parody -- it presumes that the viewer has seen the movies being spoofed. I can't imagine what anyone who hasn't seen The Ring or 8 Mile or Signs is apt to make of Scary Movie 3, but I can well imagine how they might feel: Having never seen an episode of American Idol in my life, I had to have someone explain the joke where that show's Simon Cowell pops up to judge the 8 Mile-styled rap battle.
Mel Brooks was able -- in the earlier years anyway -- to serve up parody that improved with your knowledge of the source material (see Young Frankenstein) -- but wasn't completely reliant on it. That's rarely the case here -- many gags are more apt to produce "Huhs?" from uninitiated viewers than laughs. Still, I suspect the hysterical depiction of "the dogs are acting strangely," from Signs, would play to any audience.
What saves the film is the sheer proliferation of gags. If you don't get one, you'll probably get the next one. But, like the earlier entries, it's ultimately a disposable movie that feeds off the pop culture of the moment. The Ring may still be with us years from now, but Signs and 8 Mile will be little more than footnotes from the early part of the 21st century. For now, however, they serve to inspire some generally funny, occasionally hilarious comedy.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke