The Wayans are gone but the laughs are back. Franchise is now in the directorial hands of David Zucker, who kick-started its umpteen-gags-per-hour parody ilk with "Airplane!" in 1980. Feature should benefit from the continued boom market for mainstream horror pics in coining strong short-term returns at the B.O. Ditto longer-term home format biz.

A correction was made to this review on Oct. 24, 2003

The Wayans are gone but the laughs are back (well, somewhat) as “Scary Movie 3″ improves upon part deux’s soph slump. Still falling well short of the original’s inspired (if spotty) hilarity, franchise is now in the directorial hands of David Zucker, who kick-started its umpteen-gags-per-hour parody ilk with “Airplane!” in prehistoric 1980. Feature should benefit from the continued boom market for mainstream horror pics (most recently “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” which duly gets a nod here) in coining strong short-term returns at the B.O. Ditto longer-term home format biz.

For reasons best known to Miramax/Dimension brass, series co-creators Keenan, Marlon and Shawn Wayans are now out of the picture. While latter duo’s screen characters (terminal pothead Shorty and horndogging closet case Ray, respectively) are missed a bit, the tapped-out scatological humor of “2” is not.

Though far from a paragon of good taste, latest entry does for the most part realize that a good joke can’t live on body parts, functions and fluids alone. That said, results here are just middling funny, with no truly memorable high points and a sum impact that goes poof! before you’ve left the parking garage.

Anna Faris and Regina Hall are lone returnees, bearing the same character names but otherwise providing no narrative connection to “Scary” 1 & 2.

Opening scenes make it clear what the primary reference points will be: First, career cover girls Pamela Anderson and Jenny McCarthy –as busty Catholic schoolgirl nitwits –suffer the “Ring” fate during a sleepover. Then, pic switches to cornfields where farmer Tom (Charlie Sheen, of former Zucker partner Jim Abrahams’ “Hot Shots” pics) and aspiring rapper brother George (Simon Rex) reenact the alien-invasion scenario of “Signs.”

Cindy (Faris, blonde again after her scene stealing “Lost in Translation” ditz) is now a local TV news anchor raising orphaned nephew Cody (Drew Mikuska). She’s soon on the trail of both the killer “Ring” video and UFO rumors — as well as on the tail of cute George, whose niece Sue (Jianna Ballard) has the same schoolteacher (Hall’s Brenda) as Cody.

Brenda is soon a casualty. So is a labored sequence at her wake, which endures much well-intended indignity at the hands of George, his vaguely lovesick manager Mahalik (Anthony Anderson) and hanger-on C.J. (Kevin Hart). As the various phenomena are investigated, the President (frequent Zucker muse Leslie Nielsen) becomes involved. All principals end up back at the farm for an OK climax wherein the secret link between mysterious E.T.s and the straggle-haired video-death chick is sussed out.

Occupying midpic reels in Craig Mazin and Pat Proft’s script are a succession of gags parodying other films (notably the “Matrix” ones, with Queen Latifah, Eddie Griffin and George Carlin standing in for Ruby Dee, Laurence Fishburne and Helmut Bataikus), as well as general pop-culture targets.

Variably less inspired are set pieces revolving around such familiar punching bags as pederastic priests (though “Saturday Night Live’s” Darrell Hammond handles that one nicely) and Michael Jackson (impersonator not credited).

At times Zucker doesn’t seem interested in sticking to the horror genre, which is something the first two “Movies” were clearer about. His flair for punishing slapstick physicality is a compensation, though the amount of reckless child endangerment here (Cody is a particular abuse-magnet) stops being funny and turns a little creepy around the half-way point.

Casting reps a sometimes crass attempt to hang onto the series’ appeal for African-American audiences. Some placements (“8 Mile” and “Matrix” segs, Anderson and Hart’s solid turns) are justified, while others (like D.L. Hughley and Ja Rule as presidential aides) make so little use of the talent as to seem merely opportunist. Worst in that respect is en masse appearance of Master P, Macy Gray, Redman and other music stars, who no sooner show up than they shoot each other dead.

Other celebs thrown into the mix for recognition value include Denise Richards, “American Idol’s” Simon Cowell, and “Coors Twins” the Klimaszewskis. Leads Faris and Rex have their moments, while Sheen pretty much plays straight man. Camryn Mannheim’s role as a rural cop must have justified her fourth billing in some earlier edit.

For better or worse, pic’s tenor and production style recall Zucker’s prior yokfests far more than the first “Scarys.” All design/tech contribs are professionally slick. A note advising “We are about halfway through this thing!” is posted amidst closing credits so long they allow for another four or five hip-hop tracks to be sandwiched onto the soundtrack.

Scary Movie 3

Production

A Dimension Pictures release of a Brad Grey Pictures production. Produced by Robert K. Weiss. Executive producers, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Andrew Rona, Brad Weston. Coproducer, Grace Gilroy. Directed by David Zucker. Screenplay, Craig Mazin,Pat Proft, based on characters created by Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Buddy Johnson, Phil Beauman, Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer.

Crew

Camera (color), Mark Irwin; editors, Malcolm Campbell, Jon Poll; music, James L. Venable; music supervisors, Randy Spendlove, Rachel Levy; production designer, William Elliot; art director, William Heslup; set decorator, Rose Marie McSherry; costume designer, Carol Ramsey; key makeup, L. Taylor Roberts; sound (Dolby Digital), Michael J. Benavente; visual f/x supervisor, Stuart Robertson; stunt coordinator, Jacob Rupp; choreographer, Viktoria Langton; assistant directors, Doug Metzger, Kate Vanderbyl; casting, Joan Papsidera. Reviewed at UA Galaxy, San Francisco, Oct. 21, 2003. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Cindy - Anna Faris Mahalik - Anthony Anderson President Harris - Leslie Nielsen Trooper Champlin - Camryn Manheim George - Simon Rex The Architect - George Carlin Aunt ShaNeequa - Queen Latifah Orpheus - Eddie Griffin Annie - Denise Richards Brenda Meeks - Regina Hall Tom - Charlie Sheen Cody - Drew Mikuska Sue - Jianna Ballard
With: Pamela Anderson, Jenny McCarthy, Marny Eng, Jeremy Piven, Carson Ward, Elaine & Diane Klimaszewski, Simon Cowell, Fat Joe, D.L. Hughley, Ja Rule, Master P, Macy Gray, Redman, Raekwon, The RZA, U-God.

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