Scream 2 was nei­ther as inspired or con­sis­tent as the first film in its series but at least it had a cer­tain con­ti­nu­ity of style and tone to keep the audi­ence watch­ing.  It retained enough of the original’s mag­ic to score at the box office and inspire a third film in 2000.  Unfortunately for fans, this install­ment saw the series devolv­ing fur­ther.  Scream 3 is the kind of sequel that hap­pens when the eco­nom­ics of the film busi­ness over­ride any sort of cin­e­mat­ic inspi­ra­tion, result­ing in a fin­ished pro­duct that makes more sense as a deal than it does as a film.

At the out­set of Scream 3, all the sur­viv­ing prin­ci­pals of the first two films have gone their sep­a­rate ways.  Sidney (Neve Campbell) lives in seclu­sion and works as a cri­sis line oper­a­tor, Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) is an enter­tain­ment show reporter, Dewey is work­ing as a con­sul­tant on the lat­est install­ment of the Stab series and Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) is a talk show host.  The by-now-oblig­a­tory shock open­er fea­tures Cotton and his girl­friend being killed by yet anoth­er killer wear­ing the Ghostface mask.

L.A. police detec­tive Mark Kincaid (Patrick Dempsey) calls Gale in to help with the case (???) and she soon locks horns with Dewey, who is still smart­ing from being seduced and aban­doned for a sec­ond time in the last install­ment.  She snoops around the Stab 3 set as the killer begins to tar­get oth­er peo­ple work­ing on the film, a mot­ley lot that includes Jenny McCarthy as a nubile bim­bet­te and Parker Posey doing mis­placed screw­ball-com­e­dy schtick as the actress hired to play Gale in Stab 3.  Sidney comes out of hid­ing when she hears Ghostface is back in action.  As she and the rest of the heroes-cum-tar­gets try to fig­ure out who the killer is, she dis­cov­ers a secret his­to­ry that con­nects her mother’s mur­der to the Hollywood killings.

The fin­ished film is eas­i­ly the worst of the series.  The key prob­lem with Scream 3 is the script.  Ehren Kruger took over the writ­ing here and what he came up with is a clum­sy, obvi­ous imi­ta­tion of the Williamson style: the attempts at pop-cul­tur­al ban­ter are lead­en and he over­does the comedic angle, trans­form­ing the tone of the series from dark­ly humor­ous to goof­ball.  The sil­ly tone of Scream 3 is fur­ther cheap­ened by a num­ber of des­per­ate touch­es to pump up the film’s com­mer­cial appeal, like a cameo from Carrie Fisher (com­plete with limp Star Wars gags) and a walk-on from Jay and Silent Bob.

Even worse, the script side­li­nes the series’ major char­ac­ter — Sidney — for the first half of the film.  When they final­ly bring her on, she most­ly remains a periph­er­al fig­ure until the finale.  As a result, she feels like an extra in her own sto­ry — and the attempts to make Gale and Dewey car­ry the film only remind the audi­ence that their rela­tion­ship works bet­ter as a sub­plot.  Devoting the first fifty min­utes of the film to their sit­com-lite antics makes this part of the film feel like an episode of a t.v. show where they cov­er for the absence of the major star by giv­ing the sup­port­ing char­ac­ters their own episode.  It sel­dom works on t.v. and it def­i­nite­ly doesn’t work here.

Scream 3 also com­plete­ly blows the oppor­tu­ni­ty to do any kind of ambi­tious meta-movie trick­ery with the rela­tion­ship between the char­ac­ters and the film-with­in-a-film.  The only sequence where they try this is a good set­piece where Sidney is chased by the killer through a repli­ca of the mur­der site from the first film.  Beyond that, the film’s com­men­tary on Hollywood is lim­it­ed to “Tinseltown preys on the young” clich­es that went out of style with Harold Robbins nov­els.

Even the plot hooks are dumb here.  For exam­ple, the idea that a major met­ro­pol­i­tan police force would hire a tabloid t.v. reporter to assist their case is offen­sive­ly moron­ic, even by hor­ror sequel stan­dards.  However, the film’s ele­ment that real­ly defies the sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief is the pres­ence of a mag­i­cal hand­held device that allows the killer to imi­tate the voice of any oth­er char­ac­ter, includ­ing one who has been dead for a few years.  This kind of writer’s-convenience ele­ment is right out of a Scooby Doo script, as is the ridicu­lous final reveal of the killer.

Wes Craven’s direc­tion is com­pe­tent but he’s on autopi­lot: any decent direc­tor-for-hire could have pro­duced the same basic results that the audi­ence gets here.  He man­ages a few decent set­pieces but doesn’t try to fight the script’s goof­ball com­e­dy tone, result­ing in a schizoid mess where the hor­ror ele­ments are watered down.  In terms of act­ing, Cox, Arquette and Dempsey put in solid per­for­mances but Posey’s schtick seems to have walked in from a dif­fer­ent film.  Campbell gets to do lit­tle but sit around look­ing wound­ed for most of the film — how­ev­er, that’s the script’s fail­ing, not hers.

In short, Scream 3 pro­vides a depress­ing end­ing  to the orig­i­nal Scream tril­o­gy because it is the bland, Hollywood-appro­pri­at­ed ver­sion of hor­ror that hor­ror crit­ics accused the first film in the series of being.