In-jokes, by definition, fracture audiences into two camps: those who are in on the joke and those who aren't. Scary Movie's commercial masterstroke was in creating a lowest-common-denominator blockbuster that had the winking tone of a feature-length in-joke, but stemmed from source material so ubiquitous that viewers with even a passing interest in popular culture could feel hip and knowledgeable. Scary Movie ushered in a sort of golden age for glib comedies trafficking in endless self-reference and facile postmodernism (Charlie's Angels, Not Another Teen Movie, Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back), and spawned a sequel whose commercial success was guaranteed before a word of it was written. Scary Movie 2 should have killed off a franchise that, as a dim parody of a smart satire (Scream), was conceptually flawed to begin with. But if Jason can lumber through 11 films, there's no reason–apart from the trilogy's comedic bankruptcy, of course–that the Scary Movie cash machine should stop rolling any time soon. Stepping in for Keenen Ivory Wayans, the once-great David Zucker directs a Wayans-free cast headlined by Anna Faris, the original Scary Movie's sole returning cast member. Faris figures prominently in a rambling, episodic plot that lazily stitches together elements, characters, and plot points from Signs, 8 Mile, The Ring, The Matrix, and a host of random but instantly recognizable pop-culture ephemera. Charlie Sheen co-stars as the film's Mel Gibson surrogate, while Leslie Nielsen does a slight variation on his Naked Gun persona as a bumbling president forced to deal with alien invaders. Apart from an endless string of visual quotations and lame meta-textual gags, Scary Movie was distinguished by a desperate desire to one-up the Farrelly brothers in the gross-out department. Scary Movie 3 doesn't share that inclination, both because its PG-13 rating won't allow it and because Zucker tends to favor affable zaniness over in-your-face raunchiness. Scary Movie 3 sneaks in the occasional child-molestation or bestiality joke, but otherwise seems content to cannibalize the broad slapstick of Zucker's halcyon days with Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams. Nielsen's presence particularly underlines how far Zucker has fallen from a run that includes Airplane!, Police Squad!, and Top Secret! He's long been a proponent of the kill-'em-with-quantity school of low comedy, but here, the good jokes that made the misfires bearable have all but disappeared.
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