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Stabs In the Dark; 'Mad Max' Returns

Deliver us from midwinter. Distributor shelves are cleared, projectors choke on misassembled junk, tumbleweeds haunt the empty theater corridors. Among this cruelest-season's gifts is Scream 3, the latest fulfillment of Wes Craven's efforts at living up to his own name. The Screamseries is that rare horror-genre text that cannot for the life ofit muster even a ghost of a subtext; it's as barren as the moon. Indeed, the laboriousbutton-pushing and pandering make you understand all too well the fried/bored brain-states of electrode-wired lab rats. Of course, the series' main flourish is its "self-reflexivity," which at least in this case translates to being so self-involved the movie seems to be looking up its own ass. (Compare it to the infernal dreaminess of Craven's New Nightmare.) Giving Roger Corman one line, and having the killer follow a film script, is as cerebral as it gets.

Plot?! If we know anything about the travails of Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (the consumptive-looking Courteney Cox), the interchangeable cast of bodies, and the voice-mimicking knife-wielder in the robe and rubber mask, it's that what happens doesn't matter. Whatever happens, "a preponderance of exposition" (as a guest-appearing Jamie Kennedy intones on video when describing the trilogy effect) will arrive to arbitrarily rewrite it all. Logic, motivation, suspense—anything that might make the film frightening or resonant—is buried under Dolby blams, medulla-shaming dialogue, and a rain of overdubbed hunting-knife schwings that grate like a 3 a.m. car alarm. The setting has moved to L.A., where the latest Stabmovie is shut down after a few corpses (Jenny McCarthy's, for one) show up, etc. But it's basically the old chase-&-stab. One might suggest that Craven go watch and absorb Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, but why would a hit-making millionaire want to do something crazy like that?

imageust when we assumed we were already chin-deep in badda-bing hardy-hars about neurotic Mafiosos, Eric Blakeney's Gun Shystumbles into release following a conspicuous wave of nonhype. It's a last-ditch, Friday-night New Release waiting to happen, as even producer-star Sandra Bullock seemed to know, winnowing her girlfriend role down to its barest Bullock essentials: stray forelocks and oversized shirts. Blakeney is a TV writer whose ideas stop at the pitch—an undercover cop laundering money for Colombian drug lords and the New York families is plagued with self-doubt, panic attacks, and gastrointestinal agony. Continuing the once amusing strategy of casting non-Italian paisans, Blakeney has Oliver Platt and Mary McCormack as the lower-rung gangster couple (McCormack spits sizzling Bronx bile better than anyone since Cathy Moriarty), thus paying for a few snappy line readings with any semblance of credibility. But it's the casting of Liam Neeson as the nervous breakdown that turns the movie to asphalt—it's like watching Andre the Giant play Woody Allen.

Knife moves: Jenny McCarthy in Scream 3
photo: Rico Torres
Knife moves: Jenny McCarthy in Scream 3

Details

Scream 3
Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Ehren Krueger
A Miramax release

Gun Shy
Written and directed by Eric Blakeney
A Buena Vista Pictures release

Mad Max
Directed by George Miller
Written by Miller and James McCausland
At Film Forum
February 11 through 17

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images a beacon in the dark muck of late winter, the newly restored, Dolby-ized Mad Maxat Film Forum is a must-see, if only because up to now we've enjoyed only a wretchedly dubbed version in which Mel Gibson's voice was provided by the same guy who narrated Buick commercials in the '70s. Never has such an influential pop movie been exclusively available in such pathetic form. In its Aussie original, George Miller's eight-cylinder berserker can recast how you felt about road action, and how superior you thought The Road Warriorwas. Get past the yowling villains (who spend a great deal of time laughing maniacally as they speed across the outback), and the film crackles like a 100 percent celluloid whip-it.

 
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