Scary Movie 3

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The Wayans Brothers’ “Scary Movie” (2000) was a good bit of outrageous, anarchic fun. Its sequel, a year later, was rushed, sloppy and underdone. The Wayanses bailed out of the third film in the pre-production stage, and the man who stepped in saved the franchise. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. David Zucker!

Zucker directed “Airplane!” (1980), “Top Secret!” (1984), and the first two “Naked Gun” movies, all masterpieces of sight gags, absurdist parody and fast-paced loopiness. The same mannerisms come through in “Scary Movie 3,” so much so that the film feels like an homage to the genre Zucker more or less invented. And compared to the coarseness of the ultra-raunchy first two films, the PG-13 humor of No. 3 seems downright old-fashioned.

Zucker reportedly did an uncredited touch-up to the screenplay, too, which was otherwise written by Craig Mazin and Pat Proft (himself a parody veteran, having co-written all five “Naked Gun” and “Hot Shots!” films).

Like its “Scary Movie” predecessors, it’s a merry spoof of recent films, this time including “The Ring,” “Signs,” “8 Mile,” “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Others.” After a devilishly funny “Ring”-inspired prologue featuring Jenny McCarthy, Pamela Anderson, and Pamela Anderson’s cleavage, we are reintroduced to Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris), whom you’ve probably forgotten is the only character to appear in all three films so far. She’s a TV news reporter now, following a story about mysterious crop circles on a farm belonging to former priest Tom Logan (Charlie Sheen) and his brother, would-be rapper George (Simon Rex). She also has come into possession of a videotape rumored to kill all viewers seven days later. If you’ve seen the films in question, you get the idea.

Faris demonstrates a considerable flair for this sort of comedy, acting with just the right blend of deadpan and ditziness — the same qualities already proven effective by Leslie Nielsen. Nielsen himself appears here, too, as the president of the United States. He gets to utter one of my favorite lines, in reference to some hip-hop types who are killed by aliens: “These men died for their country. Send flowers to their b*****s and hos.”

Charlie Sheen, Simon Rex, Jeremy Piven, Anthony Anderson, Camryn Manheim and Regina Hall all perform gamely, too.

The film does suffer from a disease seemingly inherent to the genre, where some jokes fall flat, and some ideas are just bad to begin with. The appearance of a pedophile priest is not funny enough to justify its tastelessness, and the same could be said for a sequence where handicapped people are mistaken for aliens. And Michael Jackson jokes? Aren’t those old yet?

But it’s the sort of movie where if you don’t like the current gag, you need only wait a few seconds before the next one turns up. One moment someone’s making reference to “President Ford” as we see a painted portrait of Harrison Ford; the next, it seems, Camryn Manheim is being stuffed into a car that is far too small for her. The film is smart enough to keep things moving and to avoid belaboring any one gag. One of things I admire about Zucker’s best movies is that the jokes aren’t underlined. When Camryn Manheim is stuffed into that car, for example, it happens without comment or acknowledgment. And no one makes any mention at all of what President Harrison Ford’s policies were during his term of service.

The running time is 83 minutes, but the last nine of that is the credits, and 74 minutes is just about right for a slappy, goofy film that remembers how funny it is to see people getting hit in the head.

B (1 hr., 23 min.; PG-13, a lot of mid-level profanity, some crude humor, comic violence.)

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