It's been about three years since "Scream" revitalized the entire teen horror film genre, and the much-anticipated final chapter of the 'Scream trilogy', "Scream 3" has finally arrived. According to the film's marketing, this third film completes a true movie trilogy, likened to both the "Star Wars" and "Godfather" series, where the rules established in the first two films are out the window, startling revelations will be made about the past, and the story will finally be complete. And while this latest entry still suffers from problems that plagued the first two films, "Scream 3" still remains true to the best aspects of the first two films: its nudge-nudge-wink-wink irreverence and pop-culture sensibility.
In "Scream", Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) was a senior in Woodsboro High, terrorized by a masked murderer with a deadly love of 'scary movies'. In "Scream 2", we caught up with Sidney in college, where she was terrorized yet again during the opening week media circus of "Stab", a film based on her traumatic ordeal in Woodsboro. In the latest film, Sidney has survived her college years, yet remains a deeply troubled and traumatized young woman. She has moved to sunny California, where she has assumed a new identity and lives on her own, cut-off from the rest of the world, spending her days as a counselor for a crisis hotline.
Meanwhile, in the nearby Hollywood backlot of Sunrise Studios, production of the horror film "Stab 3: Return to Woodsboro" is halted after two of its cast members are brutally stabbed to death. The first victim is Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber, reprising his role), the man that Sidney falsely accused in the murder of her mother, an ex-con turned talk show host of the "Jerry Springer"-like "100% Cotton". The second victim is Sarah Darling (former Playboy playmate Jenny McCarthy), an airhead actress who doesn't know the difference between "Psycho" and "Vertigo". Apparently, these two cast members were murdered in the same order that their characters die in the movie's screenplay. These murders reunite the key players of the original Woodsboro murders, who have matured considerably since we saw them last. Back for more are former Sheriff's Deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette), bitchy tabloid journalist Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox Arquette), and of course, Sidney Prescott, who once again becomes the target of another masked killer.
Like the previous two films, there are plenty of suspects. Jennifer Jolie (Parker Posey of "You've Got Mail") is an actress obsessed with faithfully playing the character she portrays in "Stab 3", Gale Weathers. Roman Bridger (Scott Foley of TV's "Felicity") is the paranoid director of "Stab 3". John Milton (Lance Henriksen of the defunct series "Millennium") is the big-shot producer, who has a number of secrets in his past. Angela Tyler (Emily Mortimer of "Notting Hill") is a newcomer to Hollywood, playing the coveted role of Sidney Prescott in "Stab 3". Then there's also Detective Kincaid (Eighties teen star Patrick Dempsey), who seems to have a keen interest in Sidney's whereabouts, and a 'bodyguard to the stars' with an attitude ("Seinfeld" regular Patrick Warburton).
As the body count rises, the script drops a number of red herrings along the way (by playing with audience expectations of the genre) which keeps the audience guessing about the identity of the killer. This 'guessing game' aspect of the narrative is the most engaging part of the film, and helps to make up a number of slow moments and a predilection to repetitive 'boo!'-type scares.
In addition, the Ehren Kruger-penned script (he also wrote "Arlington Road") makes full use of the story's setting, skewering Hollywood culture and taking full advantage of the 'movie-within-a-movie' "Stab 3" to create some interesting situations. Some of the best gee-whiz moments come from the intertextuality between events in the first "Scream" and "Scream 3", both in 'the real world' and as part of "Stab 3", where the line between make-believe and reality becomes blurred. And as an homage to 'hip cinema', look for some cool cameos by Carrie 'Princess Leia' Fisher, director Roger Corman, and two cameos worth the price of admission, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (director Kevin Smith), last seen in "Dogma".
Unfortunately, "Scream 3" also suffers the weaknesses of the first two films, particularly in the unmasking of the killer and its aftermath. Unlike a genuine 'whodunit', there is no logical means of arriving at the identity of the killer because there is no logic-- the facts are assembled around whatever far-fetched motivation is ascribed to the killer (apparently, director Wes Craven filmed three different endings to avoid unwanted Internet publicity). And like "Scream" and "Scream 2", the film quickly runs out of steam after the killer and his/her motivation is revealed (especially since it rarely makes any sense), leaving only the requisite 'talking killer' speech, an extended fight-and-chase sequence, and an 'is he really dead?' final scare to fill up the remaining running time.
Another trademark of the "Scream" series is the overly-elaborate means by which the killer skewered his victims, which would be difficult to execute in real-life. One scene that comes to mind in "Scream 3" has the killer faxing his victims a script detailing how they will die as they are being stalked in a darkened house. Furthermore, the killer is then able to predict with absolute certainty an action undertaken by one of his victims, which ultimately seals their fate. This is not the first time that scribe Kruger has had a 'psychic villain'-- witness the interesting yet highly-unlikely climax of his "Arlington Road".
"Scream 3" is good, but not great. The novelty of the self-aware horror-comedy has certainly worn off since 1996, and in some respects, "Scream 3" falls into a number of the clichés and conventions that the first film skewered so mercilessly. However, "Scream3" still manages to succeed as pure popcorn entertainment with some genuine 'gee-whiz' moments (from some interesting situations arising out of the movie-within-a-movie setting), one terrific cameo, and three principal characters that have come a long way since the first film of the trilogy.