OK, it's over, can we all go back to our lives now?
It seems like just yesterday that "Scream," Wes Craven's wittily self-referential take on the teen slasher movies of the 1970s and 1980s, was becoming a sleeper hit. One just-as-good sequel later we seem to have come to the end of the line, and not a moment too soon. In addition to several other elements -- including funny scripts, an appealing cast of young players and some genuinely scary moments -- the "Scream" franchise is that rare bird in Hollywood that actually knows when to call it quits.
"Scream 3" finds the survivors of the first two movies doing pretty much what you'd expect. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), the target of the psycho-killer who dressed in an Edvard Munch-like mask, is hiding out with her golden retriever in Northern California. Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox Arquette) is an anchor on the "Total Entertainment" television show (and somehow hoping to win the Pulitzer Prize), and Dewey (David Arquette) has given up police work in Woodsboro and is now a technical adviser on "Stab 3," the sequel of the movie version of Gale's best-selling book about the Woodsboro murders.
Meanwhile Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), who had been falsely imprisoned (or was he?) for Sidney's mother's murder, has his own talk show in L.A. (it's called "100% Cotton"). Oh, and the guy in the mask is still around, too, but just who he is and what he does isn't revealed until the final reel.
Even if "Scream 3" lacks the punch and verve of the first two installments, it manages to wring some ironically metaphysical comedy from the movie-within-a-movie motif, and Parker Posey turns in a typically sly performance as the movie-within-a-movie version of Gale Weathers. Jay and Silent Bob -- from the Kevin Smith comedies -- show up for a briefly amusing cameo appearance, as does Carrie Fisher in a much more effective turn. Even Randy, the horror-flick addict who was offed in "Scream 2," returns from the grave to deliver a convenient exegesis on the rules of horror trilogies.
None of this makes for sidesplitting comedy or bloodcurdling horror, but "Scream 3" at least delivers on its promise. The killer is duly revealed (it's a bit of a stretch, but we'll buy it for now), and Craven makes sure to leave the door open -- not for a sequel, but for that far more precious commodity: closure.
Starring Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox Arquette, David Arquette, Parker Posey, Liev Schreiber
Directed by Wes Craven
Rated R (strong horror violence and language)
Running time 116 minutes
Released by Miramax Films
Sun score: **