Sadly, those days are gone, but the level of quality lives on in Thr3e, which features the worst film performance I've seen since Cindy Crawford starred in Fair Game. (You must see that film if you're recovering from your glue-sniffing addiction and want to know what you've saved your brain from.)
The standout in Thr3e is Justine Waddell as police Det. Jennifer Peters. Waddell says every line in breathy, overdramatic tones that emphasize the wrong words. It's not so much like she's phonetically reading the script with no knowledge of English; it's more like she's phonetically reading the script with no knowledge of language itself.
The film starts with Peters running around as a mysterious serial killer sends her clues to the whereabouts of her kidnapped brother. After a loud explosion, we leap to three months into the future. In a city that I think is supposed to represent New York, though it's clearly somewhere in Canada, the serial killer has returned. He's now hunting Kevin Parson (Marc Blucas), a seminary student with a Dark Secret.
We're introduced to Parson in his philosophy class, where he wows the other students by correcting the professor about the century in which Kant lived. The professor is stunned by Parson's superior intellect, telling him, "You have a great mind!"
Two things: First, philosophy professors all know in what century Kant lived. Believe me: I'm a philosophy professor. This is one of those things they impress upon you in your first three minutes of school. Second, knowing when someone was born is hardly the mark of supreme intelligence.
This dumbed-down shortcut to characterization grows more obvious when the film cuts to a scene of two police officers conveniently providing Parson's back story: "He's a seminary student. He has no siblings, and his parents died tragically when he was a child. After that, he was home-schooled by his deranged aunt. And according to this file, he carries a Dark Secret." I like this style, because it makes Thr3e seem less like a movie and more like having a 12-year-old tell you about a movie.
Following this, Det. Peters tells Parson that the serial killer is playing with him ... playing with him as though he were playing a game of chess. Yes! It's chess as a metaphor! I immediately alerted all my literary-critic friends so they could find out if chess had ever been used as a metaphor before.
While I waited for their response, I watched the film jump haphazardly about. A series of riddles are posed by the killer, and arbitrary answers are discerned by the police and Parson, all of which turn out to be exactly right. Then Parson's childhood friend shows up to add sexual tension and more expository dialogue.
Then there are some continuity errors; more things blow up, and one of the dumbest endings in the world is tacked on.
Have you seen the film Adaptation? Do you recall that the leech-like Donald Kaufman wants to be a screenwriter, so he comes up with a script called The Three, which has the lamest plot imaginable? Strangely, Thr3e uses this plot. For the movie. They made a movie out of it. And called it Thr3e, because no one would think that a movie called Thr3e would be a rip-off of a story called The Three.
To have actually stolen a plot from a joke in another film is a daring move that subverts the dominant artistic mode of giving value to "originality" and "nonstupidness." In keeping with this post-modernist approach to storytelling, much of Thr3e is actually a variant of the old angel-on-one-shoulder, devil-on-the-other gag, only extended for an interminable 105 minutes. Luckily, there's an O. Henry-esque twist ending that makes about as much sense as ending A Christmas Carol with "and you see, gentle readers, Scrooge was redeemed because, all along, he was a giant talking squirrel."
The lack of creativity in Thr3e isn't limited to the script: in one scene; they actually do the slo-mo running-from-the-explosion shot that's been parodied in everything from The Simpsons to Naked Gun. Only in Thr3e, it's supposed to be dramatic. Frankly, it's hard to find drama in a scene that's the visual equivalent of a priest, a rabbi and a minister walking into a bar.
Which isn't to say there's nothing to like about Thr3e. There isn't, though--unless it's the performance of Justine Waddell. She has a clueless intensity and autistic emotiveness that made me wonder if she had misunderstood the very concept of acting. It's just stunning.