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Scream 3 is no mere sequel, its makers want us to understand. It is, they insist, something more self-consciously thought out--the grand, concluding chapter of a "trilogy." This means, they tell us, both from the screen and in the publicity, that it is not ruled by the horror film's generic conventions, that anything can happen.

Well, yes, it can, but will it? The survivors of the first two episodes in the series--they are not many--are now in Hollywood, where a movie version is being made of the unfortunate occurrences in Woodboro a few years back. David Arquette's deputy Dewey Riley is marginally less dorky than he was, and Courteney Cox Arquette is marginally less bitchy as hard-charging TV newshen Gale Weathers. On the other hand, Neve Campbell's overbite remains as fetching as ever, and she and the other victims, real and potential, of the slasher in the ironic mask--they are many--continue to put up game, liberated fights for their lives.

This is good. And so are director Wes Craven's inventive stagings of these set-tos. Not so good is the absence of hip cross-references to the classic horror tropes. Instead there are edgy exchanges, which are not very funny, between the "real" Scream characters and the actors playing them in the movie. This perhaps indicates the figure that really should have survived all three iterations is screenwriter Kevin Williamson. He has been replaced by Ehren Kruger, whose work is more competent than inspired--not that one imagines that afflicting the grosses.