The ''Scary Movie'' series has received an unexpected gift -- and no, I'm not just talking about the directorial reins getting handed over to David Zucker, one of the three mad geniuses who pioneered the screwball-exaggeration ''Airplane!'' genre. The first ''Scary Movie'' was, of course, a slashing burlesque of ''Scream.'' In the years since, however, Hollywood fright flicks have gone back to taking themselves very, very seriously, and so Scary Movie 3, with somber thrillers like ''Signs,'' ''The Ring,'' and ''The Others'' in its sights, has, if anything, a richer, fatter series of targets than its forebears.
There is, for instance, a spooky-eyed telepathic kid who's a takeoff on Haley Joel Osment and all of the other spooky-eyed telepaths who have followed in his cutely ghoulish wake. The casting alone is hilarious -- the young actor Drew Mikuska has a face so knowing, so fraught with mystical worry, that he looks like he could be a bobblehead doll in an occult bookstore. His predictions are all disasters, delivered with smart-alecky one-upmanship (''Smile all you want -- you're going to be hit by a bus!''), but then comes the Zucker touch: The kid himself gets hit by cars, smashed by mallets -- in other words, he gets exactly what he deserves. That's comedy with a healthy kick of vengeance.
Like its two predecessors, ''Scary Movie 3'' is a hit-or-miss affair, but the gags that connect really connect. I'm thinking of moments like Charlie Sheen, as the forlorn Mel Gibson farmer, rushing to close his dying wife's eyes as she attempts to extract from him a lifetime vow of celibacy; Anna Faris, who's like Britney Spears with self-mockery, talking to the mysterious phone caller from ''The Ring'' about whether that's seven business days until you die; the ungodly havoc wreaked upon a corpse at a wake; home videos of ''terrifying'' aliens that look like ''Jackass'' outtakes invaded by a rubber-headed theme-restaurant mascot; and Sheen, having been whacked in the crotch with a wooden beam, screaming ''My balls!'' and then -- with that impeccable Zuckerian vaudeville timing -- being handed a pair of bowling balls. That's a joke so perfectly terrible you have to laugh.