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Go Ahead and 'Scream,' Too

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 1997

  Movie Critic

Scream 2
Neve Campbell returns for more "Screams." (Dimension Films)

Wes Craven
David Arquette;
Neve Campbell;
Courteney Cox;
Sarah Michelle Gellar;
Jamie Kennedy;
Jerry O'Connell;
Jada Pinkett;
Liev Schreiber;
Laurie Metcalf
Running Time:
2 hours
For violence and graphic gore effects
"Scream 2" opens with a bravura conceit: A Midwestern college is hosting an opening night screening
of "Stab," the teen-titillating slasher film based on the sensationalized true crime book about a masked serial killer whose original targets included two current students, Sidney (Neve Campbell) and Randy (Jamie Kennedy).

After some typically knowing pop-culture/genre-film banter by two African American students (Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps, whose casting plays off their observations), "Stab" unravels to rambunctious "Rocky Horror Show"-style interaction even as a real killer begins a new reign of terror inside the theater, surrounded by dozens of collegiate clones, the fresh kills lit only by the screen simulations of the old ones. As someone notes, it's life imitating art imitating life.

Pretty soon, it's deja boo as our masked killer is stalking poor Sidney again, a situation which brings out other Woodsboro Massacre survivors, including sleazy newscaster-turned-author Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), walking wounded deputy sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and Sidney's falsely imprisoned boyfriend Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber). They are joined by Sidney's current boyfriend Derek (Jerry O'Connell), assorted sorority sisters, news hounds and detectives. The mass of them seem ill-equipped to battle one of the most scary-looking (love that mask!), relentless, knife-wielding psychos this side of Jason Voorhees and Michael Meyers.

What made 1996's "Scream" so effective and successful was its canny meld of horror and satire, and its pop-smart script. Director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson knew how to twist the conventions of horror films because they genuinely loved them, forging a tone somewhere between mocking self-reference and knowing fandom. It's evident in both films' flood of pop culture references, its tweaking of rituals and rules.

This time around, the very nature of sequels is deliciously dissected by film geek Randy, who notes they must have a higher body count and more explicit gore (both clearly apply here). And Williamson has crafted some serpentine twists and turns, to the point that just about everyone is both suspect and threatened. As Dewey warns Sidney, "You probably already know him . . . or her . . . or them . . ." But you will be making some wrong guesses along the way, for sure.

Events get somewhat convoluted and overly tangled in the grand finale (while cleverly setting up the next sequel, of course), but for the most part "Scream 2" delivers on its premises. While it has more punch lines than a Letterman monologue, it relies a bit too much on cellphone coincidences to advance (or confuse) the plot.

Campbell's Sidney has undergone some of the same metamorphosis Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor did between the first and second "Terminators." She's tougher, smarter, somewhat more cynical, far more resilient (but also far less buffed). Cox is wonderfully sleazy as the tabloid TV opportunist, and Kennedy's film geek is a bearable Tarantino-figure. The other characters are not as smartly sketched as in the original movie, but "Scream's" success probably necessitated some streamlining, as well as an intrusive rock soundtrack.

Early on, Randy suggests of sequels that "by definition they are inferior." That may be, but "Scream 2" is more disappointing than it is inferior. Like its predecessor, it's both frightening and funny, just not as singularly classy.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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