The Scary Movie series forever will be hit and miss, its jokes dissipating in the air quicker than visible breath on a cold day. While this installment is far from the spoofing genius of Airplane! or Top Secret!, it’s better off for being handed over to the man behind those movies.

Leaving behind the Wayans family’s penchant for private-part impalings and bodily-function geysers, David Zucker lengthens the lunacy quotient while shortening the running time. At a sleek 75 minutes without closing credits, it’s the perfect length. (One of its several minuses is that there are no credit-text gags — traditionally a Zucker trademark.)

Few movies go unmocked in Scary Movie 3, but it draws its narrative inspiration from lampooning Signs and The Ring, with a dash of The Matrix Reloaded.

Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris) returns, this time as a TV newswoman on the story of crop circles found in the fields of Tom Logan (Charlie Sheen), a farmer outside Washington, D.C. The story coincides with the death of her friend Brenda (Regina Hall), who kicks off seven days after watching a certain videotape. It turns out Cindy is “The One” who can stop the aliens and the evil videotape, but plot is obviously of no matter.

The most successfully skewered film here is Signs — M. Night Shyamalan’s good, but semi-pretentious, film about alien invasion. Zucker, along with writers Craig Mazin and Pat Proft, take aim at its every aspect.

Parodies of its whip-around cinematography, death-scene flashback, cheap looking aliens and look-at-me-cameo from Shyamalan all are spot-on, as is Sheen’s mockup of Mel Gibson’s so-serious expression. A young child’s premonitions a la Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense are hysterical, too.

Faris, Anthony Anderson, Simon Rex (mimicking both Joaquin Phoenix from Signs and Eminem in 8 Mile) and Kevin Hart are performers clearly having a broadly funny field day. And George Carlin, subbing in as The Matrix Reloaded’s Architect, hams it up in one of the movie’s best segments.

What doesn’t work? Aside from a prologue one-liner (“That’s weird — really big house, only one phone”) and a fabulous lampooning of the actual videotape, there are no good jabs at The Ring. The 8 Mile stuff, short of a tuning-note bit and Simon Cowell’s preview-spoiled appearance, is weak. A corpse-defiling bit involving Anderson, Rex and Hall is prolonged and shrill. And the presence of rapper-actors Method Man and Redman is shamefully wasted.

Still, when Scary Movie 3 is hitting, its belly laughs are loud and long and it actually picks up steam in its second half — even when the now-forcing-it Leslie Nielsen shows up as the President of the United States. The movie is better off zanier where it has, in the past, been raunchier, and news of Zucker’s continued involvement with Scary Movie 4 is good.