Rated R - Running Time: 1:56 - Released 2/4/00

Wes Craven should have quit when he was ahead. His Scream 2 was smarter, funnier, and more interesting than its prequel, even though Scream was hailed as a groundbreaker. But Scream 3 tries too hard to continue in that direction, and the result is a bloated, over-complex story with too many characters and too much exposition. For a slasher movie, it has a surprising poverty of blood, and for fans of that genre, it's sure to displease. It's just plain boring, folks.

Craven's first mistake may have been trusting his old formula with a new screenwriter. While Kevin Williamson penned the first two Screams, this time his characters have been handed over to Ehren Kruger (Arlington Road), who tries to make more of them than they were to start with. If there were a more talented troupe, this could almost be a straight murder thriller (except for the cloaked, masked figure jumping around), but Craven and his stars Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette are still firmly in the slasher mode, so watching them wade through the voluminous expository material just makes us say, "Get to the killing!" I was having more fun watching the couple making out a few rows in front of me in the theater.

This film, as with it predecessors, follows in the tradition of parodying the horror film genre. There are numerous references to how unlikely events in horror movies are, and numerous phone calls from the killer, who now has an electronic device to make his voice sound like that of anyone in the film. Convenient, eh? This time he attacks the people who are currrently filming Stab 3, the movie depicting the ongoing murders in the lives of Neve's character Sidney Prescott. So this time, we not only have the usual cast, like opportunistic reporter Gale Weathers (Cox) and ex-cop Dewey Riley (Arquette), but the actors playing them in the film. Gale's double is Jennifer Joile (Parker Posie), Sidney's is Angelina Tyler (Emily Mortimer), and Dewey's is Tom Prince (Matt Keeslar). There's also the film's director (Scott Foley) and producer (Lance Henriksen).

After a few cast members are offed during filming, we learn that the killer is really looking for Sidney again, and, against all logic and good reason, she shows up to help in the investigation. The set is closed down, production is halted, and our intrepid cast spends the rest of the film running around the fake houses dodging the knife. The killer, still dressed in the familiar, now un-scary mask and cloak, runs amok, disappears, reappears, gets killed over and over, and still lives to stab again. But alongside the killing is the complex story of the on-again, off-again romance between Gale and Dewey (incidentally, Cox and Arquette married during filming), and a vague sub-plot involving the murder of Sidney's mother long before all this other stuff happened.

Campbell looks bored. Cox is awful again, and her pretender, Posie, is almost as bad. Arquette is more interested in playing with his new wife than doing this film. And Roger L. Jackson's phone voice, which doesn't match any of the characters' voices or that of the eventually uncovered killer, sounds ridiculously unconvincing in its pretended ominousness.

Traditional slasher movies of the '70s were like pornos with a knife. Scream and Scream 2 moved out into the realm of quasi-intelligence. But Scream 3 goes way too far in trying to be clever. However, there is one thing I liked: Scream 3 purports to be the final chapter in a trilogy. We can only hope. **½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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