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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
Final Destination 2 (2003)
2 Stars

Directed by David R. Ellis
Cast: A.J. Cook, Ali Larter, Michael Landes, Terrence 'T.C.' Carson, Keegan Connor Tracy, Jonathan Cherry, Lynda Boyd, James Kirk, David Paetkau, Sarah Carter, Enid-Raye Adams, Aaron Douglas, Tony Todd
2003 – 100 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for graphic violence and gore, brief nudity, and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 2, 2003.

For the uninitiated, 2000's "Final Destination" told the cleverly nightmarish story of a 17-year-old boy who has a premonition that the airplane he and his classmates are about to take off in for France is going to explode. Causing a ruckus, he and several other students and a teacher are kicked off, only to moments later see the plane obliterate before their eyes. The catch was that they were meant to die onboard the plane and, because they caused a rift in Death's design, were picked off one by one in a series of seemingly natural accidents. The sleeper hit was taut, scary, and surprisingly smart for a teen-oriented horror flick, not to mention destined for a sequel.

Convinced not to change what worked in the past, director David R. Ellis has crafted "Final Destination 2" as more of a slightly skewered remake, with only one major returning character (played by Ali Larter). As such, "Final Destination 2" could be categorized as more of the same (equally taut, equally scary, and, well...about half as smart). It all works much more successfully than it should, and its lack of narrative creativity this time around is more than made up for by a series of insanely gruesome death scenes that rank as some of the most original ever to grace the silver (or should I say red?) screen.

As the movie begins on the one-year anniversary of the Flight 180 plane disaster, happy-go-lucky teenager Kimberly Corman (A.J. Cook) says good-bye to her dad and sets out with three friends for a trip to Daytona Beach. Just as she is about to pull out on the freeway, she has a horrifying premonition (seen in great detail) that a major deadly traffic pile-up is about to occur. In a panic, Kimberly blocks off the ramp she is on so the vehicles behind her can't merge, only to witness the fatal accident moments later (tragically, her friends are still killed by an out-of-control tractor-trailer). When one of the survivors ends up dying the next day, Kimberly becomes convinced that what happened a year ago is starting up again for her and the rest of the people she saved. If there is one thing she finds out when she enlists the help of last year's sole survivor Clear Rivers (Ali Larter), it is that you can't cheat death.

The 20-minute setup of "Final Destination 2" is its best section. The amount of dread director David R. Ellis is able to create is almost unthinkable, and the brilliantly intense depiction of the traffic accident is a veritable tour de force of stuntwork, frighteningly real special effects, and fabulous editing, milking every moment for maximum suspense. By the time it's over, you may find yourself emotionally worn out and edgy, only to realize the movie still has 80 minutes to go.

The rest of "Final Destination 2" is obvious in its plot developments, as it becomes clear that the rest of the survivors will meet grisly ends one at a time. As in the original, the protagonist (in this case Kimberly) even figures out in what order they'll meet their maker. The fun of the film, then, comes from not knowing how they will die, and the Rube Goldberg-inspired devices employed this time around are more deliriously elaborate, intentionally drawn-out, nailbitingly tense, and startlingly graphic. "Final Destination 2" bucks the recent annoying trend of PG-13 horror movies ("Signs," "The Ring," "They," "Darkness Falls," etc.) by offering up a no-holds-barred string of grotesque sequences as gory and extreme as almost any R-rated film in recent memory. These set-pieces—the cream of the crop for any respectable slasher pic—will have you simultaneously screaming, gasping in repulsion, and nervously laughing at its sly sense of humor in just how far the filmmakers are willing to take them.

What makes up the rest of "Final Destination 2," alas, is not as satisfying or firmly thought-out this time at bat. The characters are not given a chance to breathe as three-dimensional figures, and the film's twists and turns are too preposterous to believe for a second. From the climactic hospital sequence until the end is a progressive downward spiral that feels rushed, sloppy, and in the case of one of the major characters' unfortunate fate, thoroughly ill-considered.

Ali Larter (2001's "Legally Blonde") reprises her role as Clear Rivers, accurately playing her as an emotionally worn-down young woman who may still be alive, but realizes that it is only a matter of time before fate has its way with her. It is a shame she doesn't have more to do, though. Taking over where Devon Sawa's Alex took off, A.J. Cook (2001's "Out Cold") is serviceable as the premonition-fueled Kimberly, but doesn't evoke enough emotion in the scenes following the brutal deaths of her close friends.

Filling out the rest of the potential victims are Michael Landes (2002's "Hart's War"), as unusually helpful police officer Thomas Burke; Keegan Connor Tracy (2000's "Duets"), memorable as determined businesswoman Kat; Terrence 'T.C.' Carson (2000's "U-571"), as token black guy Eugene; Jonathan Cherry (2002's "They"), humorous as the drugged-out Rory; Lynda Boyd (2002's "I Spy") and James Kirk (2001's "Head Over Heels"), touching as mother and teenage son Nora and Tim; and David Paetkau (2000's "Snow Day"), as recent lottery winner Evan.

Whereas "Final Destination" intermixed thought-provoking notions of existentialism with its horror, "Final Destination 2" is content to focus on the latter. The result is an alternately stupid and joyously innovative slasher freak show where the villain is the invisible hands of predetermined fate rather than a physical psycho with a butcher knife. It may not live up to the 2000 original, but it is a worthy follow-up that works its way under your skin. If my mini-anxiety attack driving home following the film is any indication, "Final Destination 2," if nothing else, may just give you nightmares for days afterward at the mere thought of getting onto the highway.
© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman