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Movie Review: Scream 2 (1997)

Updated on March 1, 2014

Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Jamie Kennedy, Jerry O'Connell, Liev Schreiber, Elise Neal, Timothy Olyphant, Laurie Metcalf, Duane Martin, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jada Pinkett, Omar Epps

A lot of Scream 2's dialogue consists of characters arguing about the quality of sequels. Some argue that certain second chapters are superior works than their predecessors, and some, like film geek Randy (Jamie Kennedy, as good as ever), argue that, "By definition alone, sequels are inferior films." If Scream 2 is any indication of anything, it's that Randy is right on the money with his argument. Scream 2 is not as good as the original. It's not that scary, for starters, and some of the characters behave even more foolishly here than they did in the original. With that said, Scream 2 is an even sharper and funnier satire on horror movies than Scream was, and because the characters (both old and new) are immensely likable, it still manages to be a pretty darn good movie in spite of its faults.

Two years after the events of the original movie, survivors Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and Randy Meeks are now attending Windsor College, hoping to move on and put their troubled pasts behind them. Unfortunately, things start up again when news reports that two fellow Windsor students (Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett) were brutally murdered at a theater screening for the movie Stab (based on the Gale Weathers book, "The Woodsboro Murders," which recounts the killings from the first movie). Authorities theorize that someone is trying to copycat the murders from the movie, targeting students with similar names as the Woodsboro murder victims, and even donning the same Ghost Face costume the killer(s) wore in the original.

Series regulars Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) return. Gale is even more cutthroat here than she was in the original. Not only is she fighting for the latest scoop on the murders, but she has also brought with her Cottom Weary (Liev Schrieber), the man Sidney falsely accused of murdering her mother, and tries to stage an interview between him and Sidney. Dewey is there as sort of a big brother to Sidney and Randy once he hears about the murders at the theater. Gale receives some hostility from Dewey over the way she portrayed him in her book, but of course, you know he won't stay mad at her for long. They both had sizzling chemistry in the original, and their relationship is just as strong and endearing here as it was before.

Neve Campbell: Back and better than ever in "Scream 2"
Neve Campbell: Back and better than ever in "Scream 2"

Scream 2 was rushed into production so quickly after the success of the original, that shooting commenced even before the script by Kevin Williamson was finished. This could explain why many of the scares here are so poorly handled. Apart from one nail biting sequence, in which Sidney and her friend Hallie (Elise Neal) have to climb out of the back of a police car and over the unconscious killer in the driver's seat, Scream 2 is curiously lacking in scares. The killer's phone calls are bland, for starters, and some of the characters are such idiots that you start to grow impatient in spots. Sidney fails to pick up a cop's gun at one crucial moment. There is a scene where Sarah Michelle Gellar is harassed by phone calls from the killer at a sorority house, and when her friend leaves to go to a party across the street, you can't help but wonder she doesn't get out of the damn house and go to the party as well.

Were it not for the strength of the actors and the humor, the movie would be a pretty dismal affair. Yet even more so than the original, Scream 2 has a lot of fun poking fun at itself. This is especially true when we're shown clips from the movie Stab. We're treated to a hilarious recreation of the original film's classic prologue, where Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore in the original, now played by Heather Graham) is fixing to take a shower during a blistering lightning storm, while popcorn cooks on the stove. When the killer starts harassing her on the phone, Graham delivers this line with perfection: "You know, I don't even know you, and I dislike you already!" Another hilarious Stab clip recreates a scene between Billy and Sidney in the school hallways, with Tori Spelling cast as Sidney and Luke Wilson as Billy. There are also a few amusing nudges at Courtney Cox's hit TV show Friends, the best involving a line about Jennifer Aniston and a pornographic picture on the web (I wouldn't dream of ruining the joke here).

The acting is solid across the board. Campbell is splendid as Sidney, capturing her character's strength and vulnerability even better than she did in the original (and she was pretty terrific there), while Arquette and Cox are just as affable as before as Dewey and Gale. Among the new players in the film, Jerry O'Connell turns in the best performance as Sidney's new boyfriend Derek, and has a terrific stand alone scene where he sings "I Think I Love You" to Sidney in the school cafeteria. Special mention must also be made of Timothy Olyphant as Mickey, who is just as much of a film nut as Randy; Laurie Metcalf as a TV newswoman with a secret agenda; and Duane Martin as Gale's new camera man Joel, who's more intelligent than the average horror movie character.

Scream 2 covers issues like the effects violent cinema has on the movie going public, as well the general exclusion of black characters from the horror movie genre (looking back on the original, I realize there wasn't a single black character anywhere there). That it covers these topics with intelligence and laughs is to its credit, given how little time was allowed the filmmakers to come up with a solid screenplay. Scream 2 may be a weaker sequel, but just because it's weaker doesn't necessarily mean it's bad. And while there is gore in the movie, it is actually a lot tamer than the original, which is, no doubt, good news for all the squeamish members of the audience.

*** (out of ****)

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