Whether the much-anticipated "Scream 3" rules at the box office or (less likely) takes a dive, one thing is sure: The best and most lucrative horror-movie franchise of the last decade is coming to its funny, bloody, undeniably quirky end.
Why? "Resolution," 60-year-old director Wes Craven told Entertainment Weekly in a gushing cover story on the phenomenon. "We always knew we'd need a third and final act to wrap up all the loose ends. Three is where the whole story has always been heading."
True to his word, Craven caps the trilogy with an entertaining, comic slasher movie that offers solid answers to the questions that have been nagging fans since the original installment in the series was released in 1996. Why is the knife-loving freak in the ghostly mask so intent on catching up with innocent young Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), then a college student and now a prisoner of her own paranoia in a high-security retreat in Northern California? How many more folks must die in the course of the psycho's pursuit of the troubled young woman? Exactly who is this fear monger, and how will he or she be stopped?
Craven and screenwriter Ehren Kruger (who replaces predecessor Kevin Williamson) this time relocate the story to Los Angeles, the adopted home of ambitious television reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox Arquette). Weathers has parlayed the murders she witnessed years ago in small-town Woodsboro -- the events depicted in the first "Scream" -- into a new life as a small-screen news star. The lurid book she's written about the affair hasn't hurt her visibility, either.
Kruger's old boyfriend, former Woodsboro law officer Dewey Riley (David Arquette, Cox's real-life husband) is also ensconced in Hollywood. He's a technical advisor on "Stab 3: Return to Woodsboro," the latest of the exploitative flicks that have cropped up in the wake of Weathers' book. As luck would have it, he's grown quite fond of dimwitted actress Jennifer Jolie (Parker Posey), who has portrayed Weathers' character throughout the "Stab" cycle.
The "Stab" series has grown so popular that fans have built games and practical jokes around the movies, a passion that leads to dire consequences in a key early sequence between egotistical talk-show host Cotton Weary (Liev Schrieber) and his sexy girlfriend, Christine (Kelly Rutherford). The plot thickens as a series of unexpected absences plague the production of "Stab 3."
That film-within-a-film is populated with the expected cast of buxom bimbos and handsome hunks, including Tom Prinze (Matt Keeslar) as Dewey's double, Angelina Tyler (Emily Mortimer) in the Sidney role and Sarah Darling (Jenny McCarthy) as the archetypal "Candy the Chick." McCarthy's Sarah is given the film's best line: "The whole shower thing's been done. 'Vertigo?' Come on!" Listen as well for a funny, knowing slap at television stars who use their vacations to kick-start movie careers. (Like Cox, for instance. And Campbell.)
"Scream 3," of course, isn't Shakespeare, nor is it Scorsese for that matter. Neither does it break new ground in the horror genre, as might be said of last year's "The Blair Witch Project" and "The Sixth Sense." At heart, it's all about suspense and gore, quantities that are delivered with predictable regularity. Still, it's packaged with loads of hip, self-referencing humor and undeniable style. We'll miss you, Sidney; you were always a cut above the competition.