Up to this point, the "Final Destination" seriesthe 2000 original
and the 2003 sequel
have made a respectable name for themselves because of their imaginative twisting of the slasher genre. The killer, for one, is not a hockey-masked psycho with a butcher knife, but the unstoppable, unseen force of Death itself, paying a visit to whomever has cheated their own marked fatality. And two, the murder scenes are set into motion by clever Rube Goldberg situations that stop short of being plainly ridiculous because of a sort of morbid logic they create. Half the fun of a "Final Destination" movie is in guessing how the next character is going to get it, and the rest of the fun comes in the conception of the tragic first-act accident that sets the plot into motion.
With "Final Destination 3," the third time is definitely not the charm. Despite being more of a remake than a sequel (original writer-director James Wong and co-screenwriters Glen Morgan hand Jeffrey Reddick have even returned after sitting out on the second film), this latest entry replaces the Grand Guigonol entertainment value of the earlier pictures with a more somber and mean-spirited streak that leaves the viewer feeling depressed rather than ready to applaud. Whereas "Final Destination
" (and, to a lesser but still palpable extent, "Final Destination 2
") took the time to concentrate on the characters and realistically portray how surviving the accident affected their lives, "Final Destination 3" simply lines up a chopping block full of stereotypes with no personalities and awaits their impending doom.
First it was a plane crash. Then it was a horrible highway auto accident. And now the culprit is a rollercoaster gone haywire. Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Kevin (Ryan Merriman), along with their significant others, are out celebrating their high school graduation at an amusement park. Just as they are boarding an intimidatingly large rollercoaster, Wendy experiences a premonition of an awful accident that leaves everyone on the ride dead. Causing a ruckus, Wendy and several of her classmates, including Kevin, overly tanned cheerleaders Ashley (Chelan Simmons) and Ashlynn (Crystal Lowe), goth outsiders Ian (Kris Lemche) and Erin (Alexz Johnson), and token black guy Lewis (Texas Battle), are kicked off, only to witness the deadly accident occur moments later. With their respective boyfriend and girlfriend casualties of the rollercoaster, a mourning Wendy and Kevin team up to stop Death's design when those that escaped unscathed start perishing in freak accidents. It's only a matter of time before their names come to the front of the list.
For the first time in the series, the premise of Death coming back to haunt those unfortunates meant to die feels worn out, most likely because director James Wong does the bare minimum to differentiate it from the earlier efforts. Aside from a plot development in which the pictures Wendy took at the amusement park turn out to feature eerie clues as to each character's ultimate demise, the movie creaks as it goes through the typical motions. The over-the-top death scenes, always a highlight in its predecessors because of their complex setups and unashamedly gory outcomes, aren't nearly as craftily thought out this time, and their payoffs, while certainly bloody, aren't as vividly shot and conceived.
This includes the rollercoaster accident centerpiece, which holds the film's only genuine terror and tension, but is unusually murky in its money shots. As director Wong plays very well on many of the fears people have of rollercoastersthe cart running off the track; the seat restraints unlocking in mid-ride; getting stuck upside-down during a loopthe events are depicted so quickly that it is sometimes difficult to figure out what is happening. Had Wong slowed this sequence down a bit and milked the unsettling emotions rattled up by each quandary the riders are faced with through the nightmarish ride gone awry, he might have come up with something to rival the stupendously horrifying and larger scale highway pileup from "Final Destination 2
." As is, the scene is technically impressive, but lacking the clarity and care to be downright showstopping.
Taking over for Devon Sawa and A.J. Cook before her, Mary Elizabeth Winstead (2005's "Sky High
") is Wendy, the beleaguered heroine who experiences the premonition. More so than Cook, Winstead is fully convincing and even touching in her portrayal of a young woman struggling to handle the traumatic events thrown at her. Leading co-star goes to Ryan Merriman (2005's "The Ring Two
"), adequate but unexceptional as confidante Kevin. Finally, newcomer Amanda Crew shows promise as Wendy's sister, Julie; their sibling rivalry that gradually turns to mutual respect and love for each other in the face of tragedy is as close as the movie gets to depth. The rest of the cast (read: mincemeat) are thoroughly forgettable in one-dimensional stock parts that barely have a solitary defining trait each. Why should the audience care if these paper-thin nitwits live or not?
"Final Destination 3" culminates much like the first film did, grimly suggesting that there is no way to escape a death that has been predetermined by fate. The crucial difference between the two scenes is in tone. "Final Destination
" ended on a note of ingenious irony and reason, leaving the viewer to shuffle out of the theater on a jittery high. Curiously, "Final Destination 3" has long since stopped being fun and games before this downbeat epilogue, what with the characters being treated as worthless beings whose only purpose is to splatter into a hundred pieces and the premise refusing to budge even a little from the inevitable.
On a nitpicky, but additionally irksome note, why is it that nearly every killing happens to occur in front of Wendy and Kevin? Does Death spend his days sitting around waiting for these two Nancy Drew clones to catch up before unleashing his dirty deeds? Save for some inspired, creepily placed music cues"Turn Around, Look at Me" by The Vogues, "Rollercoaster Love" by The Ohio Players, and a cover of The O'Jays' "Love Train""Final Destination 3" is sadly absent of the edgy suspense, creativity and thoughtful moments of existentialism that had previously made this horror series more than just a cheap study in evisceration and decapitations. Without these characteristics, there's no longer any point.