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Dustin Putman

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The Final Destination  (2009)
2 Stars
Directed by David R. Ellis.
Cast: Bobby Campo, Shantel VanSanten, Haley Webb, Nick Zano, Mykelti Williamson, Krista Allen, Andrew Fiscella, Justin Welborn, Stephanie Honore, Lara Grice, Phil Austin.
2009 – 82 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong gruesome violence, language and a scene of sexuality).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 28, 2009.
The fourth and purportedly last entry in the popular slasher series (we'll see about that), "The Final Destination" does away with the dour, overexplanatory nature of 2006's "Final Destination 3," tosses in some snazzy Real-D 3-D technology for theatrical distribution, and returns to the fun and tawdry tone of 2003's "Final Destination 2." This makes sense, since that picture's director, David R. Ellis (2006's "Snakes on a Plane"), is back on board. Ellis may not be able to capture James Wong's creation of mood and foreboding that he so expertly weaved into 2000's first and still-best "Final Destination," but by this time there's probably no sense in bothering. The understandable logic of Ellis, along with screenwriters Eric Bress (2004's "The Butterfly Effect") and Jeffrey Reddick, is that audiences going to see "The Final Destination" by now know the formula and rules, and there is no longer a need to have long expository scenes where everything is explained in meticulous detail. Thus, they carry out what is expected of them in an unfussy, barebones 82 minutes (including opening and ending credits) and instead concentrate on the ingenuity of this franchise's bread-and-butter death scenes.

College-aged Nick O'Bannon (Bobby Campo) is in the bleachers at McKinley Speedway enjoying the Megatech 300 race when he suddenly experiences a terrifying premonition of a car crash and subsequent stadium collapse that leaves himself, girlfriend Lori (Shantel VanSanten), friends Hunt (Nick Zano) and Janet (Haley Webb), and over fifty other spectators dead. Rushing them out of harm's way just in time, a small group of would-be victims watch in horror as Nick's visions come true. Happy to be alive at first, Nick starts experiencing flashes of deadly accidents yet to come and comes to the conclusion that they were all fated to perish in the raceway accident. If this series has taught viewers anything, it's that you can never cheat death.

"The Final Destination" entertains no delusions of being anything more than it is, and that's one of the reasons it is as enjoyable as it is. Not scary but certainly violent and macabre, the film is a virtual remake of the previous three movies, only with a new opening disaster, different kills, and less existential babble. As such, the film is paced just like a race car, moving at high speeds as danger approaches but is not always avoided. For the most part, the characters are vaguely drawn types—it is never even explained how old lead protagonist Nick is, if he is in school, or what he does for a living—and there are few, if any scenes, that don't directly pertain to the plot at hand.

What director David R. Ellis gets right is the mischievousness of setting up the Rube Goldberg-inspired devices that lead toward doom for the human mincemeat. Teasing viewers with suggestive hints and ingenious misdirections as each set-piece plays out, the experience frequently electrifies and leaves the audience on edge. From a sequence set at a salon with harried mother Samantha (Krista Allen), to others involving a movie theater, an escalator, a swimming pool (beware sitting on the suction drain), and, best of all, a car wash, they are all imaginatively conceived and certainly a step above the comparatively lazy death scenes in "Final Destination 3." Little details, such as a company being called Clear Rivers Water or the War song "Why Can't We Be Friends" playing on the radio as the racist Carter Daniels (Justin Welborn) prepares to carry out a hate crime on black security guard George Lanter (Mykelti Williamson), signal that the movie's tongue is nowhere if not firmly planted in cheek.

Sharp, memorable performances are not at the forefront of the film's goals. Newcomer Bobby Campo gets the lead role of Nick and he merely suffices. The same goes for Shantel VanSanten, as Lori, and Nick Zano (2008's "College"), as womanizing hotshot Hunt. Of the foursome, Haley Webb stands out as the kind-hearted Janet, stopping to give a homeless man some change before blissfully choosing the wrong time to go through the car wash. As recovering alcoholic security guard George, Mykelti Williamson (2007's "August Rush") has the pic's most mature and developed part to play, that of a man still trying to come to terms with the deaths of his wife and child in a drunk driving accident he was responsible for. No one else lives long enough to make much of an impression.

"The Final Destination" is purely disposable fare, but it would be lying to suggest that it isn't a whole lot of trashy fun. Fans of the slasher genre out for some laughs and cheap thrills will lap it up, and the craftiness with which director David R. Ellis approaches the material is in full force throughout. The destination of the title is never in any doubt, but the getting-there is giddily devious and welcomingly playful. For the fourth outing in a thought-tired series, "The Final Destination" has some surprising sparks of life to it yet.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman