Scary Movie 2 / Scary Movie 3 

Of its four entries to date, the first half were directed first by Keenen Ivory Wayans, and the second by David Zucker, and both did better on their second turn at bat. You can revisit the best of one man and the worst of another now that second and third chapters make their hi-def debut. Both have aged pretty nicely.

While the first film is not in danger of heading toward the National Film Registry, its then-ripe parodying of the teen-slasher genre made it a hip hit. Such a hit, in fact, that "Scary Movie 2" was rushed into theaters in 2001, one year to the date of the original's premiere. Like the first, it's hit-or-miss, but hits more often than its papa had.

Four characters return: the sweet yet naive Cindy (Anna Faris), pothead Shorty (Marlon Wayans), not-so-closeted football player Ray (Shawn Wayans) and his beard girlfriend (Regina Hall, mysteriously and inexplicably resurrected from her death in the first one). Now in college, they take part in an "experiment in fear," which holes them up in a haunted mansion for the weekend, thus building a broad structure that's equal parts "Scream 2," "The Haunting" and "House on Haunted Hill." Also along for the night are a slutty sexpot (Kathleen Robertson) and a talking horse (Tori Spelling).

Years earlier, the house was the site of a possession, giving way to an "Exorcist" spoof prologue, with James Woods demolishing his Serious, Oscar-Nominated Actor credibility as a priest with defecation difficulty. Today, it seems to be haunted by the ghost of Bull from TV's "Night Court," a skimpy story existing only to allow for a stream of unrelated sequences parodying "Poltergeist," "A Nightmare on Elm Street," "Charlie's Angels," "Mission: Impossible 2," "Hannibal," "What Lies Beneath," "Hollow Man" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." (If some of those titles seem dated, wait until the jokes at the expense of the game show “The Weakest Link" and a then-popular Nike commercial.)

So what's funny? Mostly David Cross and Chris Elliott, who steal the movie as a handicapped assistant and the house's caretaker with a gimp hand. They're so good, they operate on an entirely different level of class. The fearless Faris, naturally, also shows her considerable comic flair.

So what's not funny? Probably what made the first one such a word-of-mouth hit: all the dick and drug jokes. Seeing Spelling give head to an invisible man is more repulsive than hysterical, and after a short while, it seems like the Wayans subscribe to the "when in doubt, do a blow job gag" style of comedy, which is far from creative or groundbreaking. Marlon Wayans' constantly high character is not at all funny, because Marlon Wayans is not funny. Repeat: Marlon Wayans is not funny.

With "Naked Gun"ner Zucker at the helm of 2003's "Scary Movie 3," it had every right to be the best of the series. It's not, but I still laughed. This one focuses on parodying two $100-million-plus horror flicks — "The Ring" and "Signs" — with some "8 Mile," "The Others" and "The Matrix Reloaded" thrown in, but surprisingly not much else. (The deleted scenes include a "Hulk" bit that was cut mercifully, as it flops so hard, you almost feel embarrassed for it.)

Faris again stars as no-longer-brunette Cindy Campbell, now a blonde newscaster simultaneously investigating crop circles on the farm of a widowed single dad (Charlie Sheen) and an enigmatic videotape that brings death to viewers within seven days. Because he was at the time required by law to appear in every spoof film made, Leslie Nielsen plays the president of the United States. Let the pratfalls begin!

There are some funny moments in this one, as well as jokes that fall completely flat. I enjoyed the nod to "Airplane!," which had to go over the heads of its intended young audience. I also enjoyed not having Shorty around, although I found myself missing Ray. Once more, Faris has to be singled out for her unwavering commitment and anything-for-a-laugh gusto. While this franchise launched her career, Hollywood has yet to capitalize fully on her comedic skills. —Rod Lott

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Rod Lott

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