Fun is slashed to ribbons with feeble 'Scream'

December 20, 1996|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

Indeed, "Scream" is better than the average slasher film, as its advertisers insist. And, indeed, it is probably Wes Craven's best film, as they also insist. But that is a little like saying the pimple on the left side of your nose is "better" than the pimple on the right side. Or that the 1995 audit was "better" than the 1994 audit. Or that Yogi is merely "better" than the average bear.

Mostly, it's the same old things: goblins in masks chasing teen-agers and the occasional grown-up through time and space without regard to logic, catching them and doing the dirty deed with six inches of cold steel. Not pleasant, if you've got a soft spot in your heart for human beings.

The movie's only wrinkle is that it is, in a crude fashion, post-modernist. Pardon me while I alert the media.

By that I mean, not only is it a slasher movie, but it's a parody of a slasher movie, aware of the conventions of the slasher genre, continually pointing them out, only to aggressively violate them. For example -- this is big news -- the heroine loses her virginity, but still manages to survive!

This may give desperate graduate students an otherwise illusive new topic for a master's thesis, but for the rest of us old-fashioned seat potatoes just wanting a good time for our seven bucks, it's hardly noticeable. In fact, I think I prefer the old-fashioned, irony-free slashers, which were just out to give your endocrine system a goose without telling you in every frame how much better they were than their materials.

Set in a small, picturesque Northern California town, it watches (and drools a bit) as a telephone stalker calls up kids, sneers at them in a patois full of in-jokes and genre references, then cuts their guts out. No real detective work is done, but by the time the cast has been reduced by about three-quarters, the list of suspects is so minimal that no surprise is really possible.

One would think that Courteney Cox would have managed to ride "Friends" to something better than this vehicle, but here she is, as a snippy TV reporter who thinks it's possible for a TV talking head to win a Pulitzer Prize.

There are some other mildly advanced people appearing in low-end jobs more appropriate for entry-level performers: Neve Campbell, of "Party of Five," is one such; another is Matthew Lillard, of "Serial Mom." Even Drew Barrymore makes a brief appearance, though only her agent knows why.

'Scream'

Starring Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox

Directed by Wes Craven

Released by Dimension

Rated R (gross violence, sexual innuendo)

Sun score: *

Pub Date: 12/20/96

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