Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases or premieres, or occasionally our own inscrutable whims. This week, we’re looking back on films that romantically pair real star couples.
Rushed into production with an unfinished script, and released one year after the massive sleeper success of its predecessor, Scream 2 had all the prerelease hallmarks of a hasty cash grab: the kind of misjudged sequel that its impossibly self-aware characters spend portions of the movie skewering, before getting skewered themselves. Instead, director Wes Craven, screenwriter Kevin Williamson, and a sprawling cast of new and returning performers pulled off a kind of high-wire miracle, speedily crafting a follow-up that adhered to the essential “sequel rules” established by film-geek audience surrogate Randy—a bigger body count, more elaborate kill scenes, a larger pool of suspects—without succumbing to the dramatically diminished returns horror buffs can usually expect from a movie with a number on the end of its title. One of the unexpected charms of Scream 2 is the miniature romantic comedy it smuggles into the margins of its horror-whodunit formula—a screwball courtship between ruthless, ambulance-chasing reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and dorky, limping deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette).
In keeping with the life-imitating-art-imitating-life concerns of this franchise, there was a real on-the-job love story happening behind the scenes of the imaginary one: Having met on the set of the first Scream, Cox and Arquette were dating during the production of the second. The original had casually established a flirtation between their characters; the kiss they steal during a mid-film outing is a tossed-off moment, designed to humanize Cox’s careerist media vulture. But Scream 2 productively builds upon that foundation, placing the characters at odds during their reunion, with Dewey hurt by the way Gale characterized him—as a Barney Fife-ish dolt who “oozed inexperience”—in her bestselling book about the events of the first movie. In between scenes of expertly choreographed mayhem, and the dropping of clues and establishing of red herrings, Craven and Williamson play out a redemptive romance, tying Gale’s awakening of conscience to her growing affection for the big-hearted small-town cop playing detective in her radius.
It’s not a big part of the movie, honestly. Scream 2 keeps a lot of narrative balls in the air, and Dewey and Gale’s subplot unfolds in broad strokes, inching them into each other’s arms over just a handful of scenes. But the odd-couple pairing is intensely likable, and the actors’ palpable chemistry gives these moments a spark of genuine romantic tension; you really do feel like you’re watching two people falling in love. (They also get an inspired assist from the soundtrack: the twangy, borrowed musical cue from Han Zimmer’s Broken Arrow score, reconfigured into a de facto theme for Dewey as sweet and goofy as he is.) Slasher movies generally play on an indifference or even contempt toward their characters, often even encouraging audiences to root for the masked killer knocking off a bunch of unlikable teen dimwits. Scream 2 flips that trope on its ear by investing in the relationships. In one of the best of the film’s superb set-pieces (seriously, it does one-up the original in that department), Gale has to watch Dewey get sliced and diced from behind soundproof glass, unable to help or even audibly say goodbye. That this moment might inspire genuine pangs of distress, rather than just wicked satisfaction, is a testament to the affection Craven and Williamson foster for their mismatched duo—and to the stars who didn’t have to pretend to really like each other.
Availability: Scream 2 is available to rent or purchase through the major digital platforms. It can also be acquired on Blu-Ray or DVD from Amazon, Netflix, or your local video store/library.