American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
The difference between a trilogy and a sequel, we're told in "Scream 3,'' is that sequels go on and on, while a trilogy has a beginning, a middle and an end: "In a trilogy, nobody's safe. Even the hero can die in the final chapter.'' So explains one of the movie buffs in the third of this self-aware slasher series in which the characters know all the horror cliches and get trapped in them anyway.
The action this time moves the key surviving actors from the previous "Screams'' to Hollywood, where a horror film named "Stab 3'' is under way. There is a death, and then another: The killer is slashing the actors in the same order they die in the screenplay. But the third victim may be hard to predict: "There were three different versions of the script,'' an executive explains, "to keep the ending off the Internet. I don't know which version the killer read.'' No matter; the fax machine rings, and it's a call from the killer, transmitting revised script pages. That problem of spoilers on the Net could inspire a slasher movie of its own (a serial killer, under delusion he is Freddy Krueger, kills to prove a Web rumor site is wrong).
And in an attempt to keep actual Web sites from revealing the movie's secrets, the studio delayed screenings of "Scream 3'' until the last possible moment, and even then banned many Web-based critics from attending (although the lads from Playboy.com were hunkered down happily in the row in front of me).
Anyone who would reveal the identity of the killer in "Scream 3'' would in any event be the lowest form of life, since the secret is absolutely unguessable. Why? Because the identity is absolutely arbitrary. It could be anyone in the movie, or (this would be a neat twist) none of the above. The characters are so thin, they're transparent. They function primarily to scream, split up when they should stick together, go alone into basements and dark rooms, and make ironic references to horror cliches and earlier movies in the series. Director Wes Craven covered the self-aware horror genre splendidly in "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" (1994), and this is the lite version.