Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on October 23, 2003, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.


As the R rating has re-established itself as a box-office-friendly quantity this year, one corollary has gone unaddressed: Would certain recent films have done better with the more “restrictive” rating? For example, did the sexy noir thriller Out of Time (a critical success but a box-office disappointment) lose potential viewers because its PG-13 tag suggested that the sexy part had been watered down? The question may be begged again this weekend when Scary Movie 3 opens, also bearing a PG-13 after its two predecessors sported the hardest of Rs. That duo won a great deal of their notoriety from their crassly explicit nature, and it would be a shame if the latest entry suffered for being tamer, as it is easily the best and by far the funniest of the series. (Hell, 3’s poster campaign is funnier than either of the first two films.)

The higher laugh quotient confirms that one Zucker brother is worth all of the Wayanses (who were responsible for the previous entries), as director David Zucker whisks us back to the days of early-’80s comedy, when outrageous farces got by on rapid-fire jokes rather than lazy raunch. To be sure, there’s a lot of sex-and-bodily-function humor here, but the difference is that Zucker and writers Craig Mazin and Pat Proft revel in funny jokes that are frequently crude, instead of assuming (as the Wayanses did) that the crudity itself is funny. Zucker also recruited his Airplane! and Naked Gun star Leslie Nielsen to come on board, and the actor is in fine, loony form as the President of the United States, dealing with an alien invasion in the bumbling, misinformed way that only he can.

What does the extraterrestrials’ arrival, which mostly manifests itself around a farmhouse occupied by farmer Tom (Charlie Sheen), his idiot brother George (Simon Rex) and his little daughter, have to do with the weird videotape that kills anyone who views it seven days later and has come into the possession of TV newswoman Cindy Campbell (returning Anna Faris)? The plot contortions that bring the Signs and The Ring spoofs together are both beside the point and part of the fun, as Scary Movie 3 not only does a thorough job of sending up memorable moments from those movies, but also plays with basic cinematic conventions (like sound FX transitions) and additional films like The Others, 8 Mile and The Matrix Reloaded. For my money, the moment when George Carlin, as a variation on the latter film’s Architect, picks up a thesaurus to look up more pompous and complex words to say is worth the price of admission.

The large and varied comic cast (not to mention the audience) benefits from the fact that they’ve all been given funny things to do, rather than simply being pulled on screen for a simple joke of recognition. They’re clearly game for anything, as Zucker and co. subject them to all manner of literal knockabout farce and, yes, a certain amount of bodily-function gags. (Pamela Anderson is probably the best sport in the bunch, taking part in a funny reference to her Tommy Lee sex video that you’re probably familiar with from the ads. And no, all the best stuff is not in the trailer.) Zucker’s crack timing ensures that the movie doesn’t linger on the gross-outs, and the jokes fly so fast that if one doesn’t stick, the next one will.

Because this entry takes off on more benign genre fare than the slasher sagas that inspired the previous Scary Movies, horror-film violence doesn’t come in for much specific ribbing. Instead, the characters are endlessly pratfalling and getting bonked on the head (and more sensitive areas), with Cindy’s young nephew Cody (Drew Mikuska, a little find) coming in for a lion’s share of the bashing, especially during the climactic action. Somehow, none of this, or the film’s frequent politically incorrect humor, comes off as mean-spirited, which is a breath of fresh air in the current comedy climate. In a year overcrowded with unnecessary, underachieving sequels, who’da thunk that the successor to two mediocrities would shape up as one of 2003’s funniest films? And dare I suggest that if the same team stays on board, a Scary Movie 4 might actually be welcome?

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