In Scream 3, Parker Posey, she of the beautiful equine cheekbones and flip aristo manner, shows up as Jennifer Jolie, an actress in Stab 3: Return to Woodsboro who plays a character based on Gale Weathers, the haughty TV-news personality portrayed by Courteney Cox Arquette in the first two Scream films. (Are you with me?) Since Cox Arquette's Gale is on hand as well, the casting, in theory, should be zestily playful: Posey, who delivers each line as if it fell between ironic quote marks, playing a cheesy scream queen cast as a TV star in a schlock horror movie based, in part, on how that same TV star's life became a schlock horror movie for real. (Are you still with me?) Somehow, though, what's clever in the abstract turns out to be chintzy and listless on screen. In Scream 3, we look at Parker Posey, and we see a skinny likable actress stuck in a flabby, tired sequel, and we look at Courteney Cox Arquette, and we see another skinny likable actress stuck in a flabby, tired sequel. It doesn't even matter who's playing whom. In Scream 3, the B-movie hall of mirrors has collapsed in on itself.
''I've heard this s--- before!'' screams Sidney (Neve Campbell), our heroine, glaring into the face of a black-caped lunatic. The audience may share the sentiment. In Scream 3, there are a few queasy, funny moments, like the opening scene, with Liev Schreiber melting from lust to fear as the killer, reaching him on a cell phone, puts on a sultry groupie voice that quickly turns manly and menacing. Mostly, though, the film feels nearly as patched together as the potboilers it's satirizing. The Stab 3 premise turns out to be little more than microwaved Scream 2, and Campbell, mopey and isolated, seems to be acting in another picture entirely.
Like Scream and its energized (if rather joyless) sequel, Scream 3 was directed by Wes Craven, but it's the first film in the series not to be written by Kevin Williamson, and you feel the loss. The new screenwriter, Ehren Kruger (Arlington Road), doesn't know how to have fun entangling us in the idiot/intricate machinations of old slasher movies. In Scream 3, the psycho-with-a-knife postmodernism is messy and slipshod, and that's because the film's precocious awareness of horror cliches doesn't extend to anything beyond the first two Scream films.
In a brief, tantalizing bit, delivered on videotape, a frantic geek outlines the hallowed rules that always guide the final chapters of trilogies. His speech turns out to be a tease, though. About the only second-sequel rule Scream 3 ends up conforming to is the one that says the film's heroes must blather on about characters from the past whom the audience couldn't possibly care less about. Of course, what the movie is really waxing nostalgic over isn't a handful of terror-spoof ciphers; it's the success of Scream and Scream 2. Perhaps Scream 3 will match it, but about the only thing the movie kills with any decisiveness is your time.