WFTB Score: 5/20
The plot: Hapless TV news reporter Cindy Campbell hits on not one but two stories of the century: an alien invasion threatens the Washington farm of an ex-minister and his wannabe rap star brother, and closer to home a killer video tape bumps off her best friend and threatens both Cindy and her strangely prescient nephew Cody. Are the two events linked? And if they are, how the hell do they get themselves out of the bind they’re in?
There is, I dare say, a vaguely interesting tale attached to how David Zucker – one third of the legendary Kentucky Fried Theater group behind Airplane!, Hot Shots! and so on – came to take over the reins of the Wayans Brothers’ Scary Movie franchise after the pretty horrible second film. I’m not moved enough to explore them, frankly, but please feel free to tell me if you have the inside scoop.
Anyway, our returning heroine Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris) finds herself in the thick of some very spooky action when she determines to investigate disturbing goings-on at the farm of Tom Logan (Charlie Sheen), a former minister whose belief in God was shattered by the death of his wife (played by Sheen’s then-wife Denise Richards) in an absurd car crash. Not only that, but Cindy’s seemingly immortal friend Brenda (Regina Hall) has heard rumours of a video tape inhabited by an evil girl who kills people seven days after they’ve watched it.
Predictably, Brenda meets a grisly end, which threatens to be Cindy and her adopted nephew Cody’s (Drew Mikuska) fate when they also view the tape. The key to what’s happening may lie back at the farm, where Tom is struggling to look after his daughter and his unsettled brother George (Simon Rex), a whiter-than-white farmboy desperate to overcome his nerves and make it in the world of rap. Then again, the answers may lie in an annoying Aunt ShaNeequa (Queen Latifah) or the pervy Architect (George Carlin), or a race of deceptively aggressive aliens. One thing’s for sure: US President Harris (Leslie Nielsen) hasn’t the faintest idea what’s going on.
Although it’s never anything but thuddingly unsubtle (not least the gratuitous but nicely self-mocking opening featuring Jenny McCarthy and Pamela Anderson), Scary Movie 3 starts off quite brightly. Faris continues to be perky and likeable, Sheen is impressively straight-laced as the grieving farmer, Rex is endearingly stupid as George and the whole 8 Mile rap battle sequence is great fun.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long before the attempt to meld Signs, The Ring, The Sixth Sense and The Matrix into a single plot throws all sense and logic out of the window, and the gags become repetitive, dull, leery and increasingly tasteless. It’s as though Zucker and writers Pat Proft and Craig Mazin had seen the earlier Scary Movies, marvelled at what you could get away with these days, and set out to make a film that pushed at the boundaries of taste whilst retaining the trademark ZAZ flippancy.
The result is the unappealing sight of callous violence being played for laughs. If you find any part of Brenda’s wake (her body is slapped, jumped on, pummelled and finally blown apart by electricity in the company of her grieving family) funny, you really want to have a word with yourself (unless you’re twelve, in which case it’s probably ok). Though it’s no doubt intended to be cartoonish, the film’s quick graduation from adults hitting themselves on the head to adults injuring children in a vast number of ways just feels wrong. Two jokes, the baby-sitting Catholic priest and the appearance of ‘Michael Jackson’ – suggest that the filmmakers find the very idea of child abuse laden with comic potential. You can’t believe they’ve gone there, but the reaction is one of revulsion rather than laughter.
Still, at least these sections bring something new to the table: the appearance of Leslie Nielsen signals more clearly than a caption ever could that the Zucker/Pat Proft part of the film has started. While Nielsen is dependable, the fact that his main contribution is to repeat a line from Airplane! shows that the film barely knows what to do with him. By a sad coincidence, this review was written on the day Nielsen’s death was announced*, and watching any of the Naked Gun films (even the third one) would be a much better tribute than trying to enjoy the goofy shtick the writers inflict him with here.
Anthony Anderson and Kevin Hart are no better as the homies who have always got George’s back. I suppose kudos is due to Zucker for retaining a decent African-American presence in the Scary Movie franchise, but neither this pair nor Queen Latifah and Eddie Griffin in the Matrix skit are particularly interesting; and out of the hasty gangsta rap cameos, the only face I recognised was Macy Gray!
If you get to watch them for free, the first 20 minutes or so of Scary Movie 3 are pretty good value; and though it rapidly goes downhill, there’s the very occasional glimpse of humour in the remaining hour amongst the dreadfully weak dross. Whatever it’s few redeeming qualities, however, there’s one thing for which the film can never be forgiven: it allowed Scary Movie 4 to happen.
NOTE: As in 2010, when it actually happened, rather than 2016 when social media re-announced it.