‘Scary Movie 3’ at 20: Still killing

Just before Halloween 20 years ago, the slasher film Scary Movie released its third installment, a truly light-hearted take on The Ring, 8 Mile, M. Night Shyamalan, and pop culture in general. I died laughing watching it as a pre-teen – it being immature and in bad taste was the whole point. Two decades and a college degree later, I’m afraid to say that Scary Movie 3 is still killing me.

If the trio were to have any chance of surviving after the studio fired the Wayans brothers from their own franchise, according to Marlon Wayans, it needed a deus ex machina in the vein of “Plane!” and “The Naked Gun.” So they hired just that: veteran swindle director David Zucker and his “Olivier” of the genre, as Roger Ebert called him, Leslie Nielsen. This inspired union of 1980s golden-era parody and Y2K-era irreverent slapstick gave the cult hit some oomph. It was also Hollywood’s last great love affair with its silliest genre.

The farce follows journalist Cindy (Anna Faris), aspiring rapper George (Simon Rex) and George’s farmer brother Tom (Charlie Sheen) as they investigate a murder tape, mysterious crop circles and an alien invasion. Regina Hall reprises her role as Cindy’s best friend, Brenda, while Nielsen plays the prankster President of the United States. Queen Latifah slays as (sorry!) Aunt ShaNeequa, the all-knowing oracle married to Eddie Griffin’s Orpheus.

And mocking “The Matrix Reloaded,” comedian George Carlin appears as The Architect, who accidentally returned his child’s creepy video to Blockbuster instead of “Pootie Tang.” “We loved our daughter, but she was evil. Maddened the horses, killed our puppies, hid the remote,” explains the Architect. “My wife took her to the old family farm and drowned her in the well. I felt that a simple wait would be enough.

Somewhere between pastiche and silliness, Scary Movie 3 is more of a bricolage of breathless non-sequiturs and fourth-wall winks; puns, banter, and zeitgeist references; cockamamie jokes and genius line readings – all executed with insane precision and breakneck speed. Don’t worry if you don’t get a joke… there’s a new one right behind it. Even with those raunchy pocket jokes you can no longer make, for better or worse (the Michael Jackson impersonator is still kind of funny), Scary Movie 3 remains a quotable fan favorite that informs the brand of a generation for humor.

Growing Sheriff Hat. Kevin Hart and Anthony Anderson’s paradoxes about the nature of a rat that turns into a mouse if it enters a house. “Oooh, Yahtzee!” No matter its faded shock value, toilet humor, or many, many kicks in the groin. The film is largely sustained by its subtle hilarity – the shovel cocked like a shotgun or the pitch-perfect delivery behind “Tom, I’m gonna need a ride home” – throwaway scenes that make you laugh like you’re a kid again.

The best parodies become coffers, or in this case, caskets, for our collective obsessions. Enter: the obligatory celebrity cameo. Schoolboy versions of Jenny McCarthy and Pamela Anderson stretch the dumb blonde to death. Fat Joe and Simon Cowell appear as themselves on a rap battle. Ja Rule plays a Secret Service agent for some reason. Members of Master P, Macy Gray and Wu-Tang arrive as support against the aliens, but instead shoot at each other. Part of the fun of film today is seeing what has or hasn’t changed in 20 years.

“Writing ‘Scary Movie 3’ was a lot harder than writing ‘Chernobyl,'” Emmy-winning screenwriter Craig Mazin told British GQ last year. Mazin said he, along with his co-writer Pat Proft, would count more than 70 revisions to the script thanks to Miramax’s Bob Weinstein’s relentless demands to turn the film into a raunchy sex comedy.

Even now, Mazin loves Scary Movie 3, as does Zucker, who considers it one of his top three movies. Often asked if he could make movies today, Zucker has a favorite line: “Of course, just without the jokes.”

It’s hard to find a good cheat these days. Several theories involve cultural and filmic shifts, as if we are post-satire or post-genre. Franchises and marquees either don’t even try to beat the Oscar-bait charges anymore, or they’re in the fray so hard it ricochets more than the car that went into outer space in “F9.”

As the decade progressed, no one was immune to the onslaught of parodies, most notably with the word “Movie” in the title (“Not Another Teen Movie,” “Date Movie,” “Disaster Movie,” “Superhero Movie,” and etc. etc.). The gag got old and the parody soon turned into a nightmare.

It’s fitting, then, that the franchise that single-handedly revived the genre would also deliver its final blow with Scary Movie V in 2013. Parody films have been dying a slow death ever since, and — shockingly — Scary Movie 3 may have been the killer all along.

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