Monday, October 25, 2010

End of the Line

If you've seen one of the Final Destination films, you've pretty much seen them all. Recap: while enjoying a group activity, one character has a vision of a future to come in which all the characters of the story suffer a grisly mass death due to a major calamity (airplane explosion, highway pile-up, roller coaster malfunction). When that person snaps back to reality, they freak out, causing many members of the group to leave or be ejected from the scenario in question before disaster strikes. Later, each survivor dies one-by-one in gory fashion in the order they were supposed to die in the "accident". Remaining survivors try to stop death from claiming what it believe rightfully belongs to it. When this idea was first introduced back in 2000, it was a unique idea executed with the maniacal glee of a mad scientist. It was also a great tweak on the genre of horror Roger Ebert would refer to as "dead teenager" films. But after two okay-if-not-good sequels, was there really any necessity to releasing a fourth film when the individualistic aspects of the film were all gone? And in 3D, no less? Maybe not, but with Redbox lacking in any other titles that I wanted to watch (How to Train Your Dragon and Robin Hood were both out), I bit the bullet and popped this flick in for a spin, figuring it couldn't be worse than some other films I've seen this year.

Get used to that confused look, you'll see it often
The Final Destination takes us to a new location for bystander homicide, this time a NASCAR speedway. Okay, it's actually called McKinley Speedway, and NASCAR's name is nowhere to be seen, but the writing is on the wall that far too many people seem to think they're perfectly safe at a race, when it's actually been proven that the "safety" fences and precautions that are in place to protect the viewing customer have little impact were disaster choosing to strike. Nick (Bobby Campo) is at the event with his girlfriend Lori (Shantel VanSanten) and his friends Janet (Haley Webb) and Hunt (Nick Zano) when he has a vision of a car crash spilling into the stands, killing him, his friends and most of the people in their section. When the vision ends, Nick panics and causes many people to leave the stadium right before the accident actually happens, sparing several lives. But as anyone who has seen these films before, death won't be cheated out of his prize.

Not quite the wet t-shirt reference I was going for, but okay
No reason has ever been given for why these people get these visions, and even through four films no clue to why this phenomena would exist to alter death's plan has been sought out. What IS shown, however, is how vengeful death can be, as often we're shown things like secure screws unfastening themselves or water moving seemingly independently of logical methods in order to make death seem like a malevolent force to be combated. In this way the Final Destination series has staked its territory, as death scenes are unique, unpredictable, and while not unexpected, often pace things out and change direction at a moment's notice to keep the audience on their toes. Who, if they've seen them, can forget, Kristen Cloke's death scene in the original film, involving burning alcohol, an exploding computer, and a chopping knife? Or Final Destination 3's "death by tanning bed"? Rarely are these executions short and sweet, as they're often brutal, bloody and unmerciful to the recipient, with few exceptions. The only real problem with the series as a whole is it's uselessness. In sequels, often mention is made of survivors at the end of previous incarnations having died in "accidents" despite thinking they had foiled death's plans.

Add a little seasoning, and he's ALMOST ready!
If only that was the only problem with this film. despite some intriguing death scenes, The Final Destination brings us the most uninteresting group of people targeted by death in a film from this series yet. With the exception of the main foursome, only a security guard (Mykelti Williamson) with a history of drinking and a dead family is explored in any capacity by the film's script. The other survivors are either unlikable, uninteresting, or unexplored at all until it's their time to die. The film follows the now-predictable format of each character dying in the order they were supposed to perish in the original plan. This leads to several futile chases as Nick and Lori try to intercept the next person on the list before death can take them. While, as I've said, the death scenes are mostly interesting, they as a whole are not as good as those in previous films. In fact, one death is actually repeated late in the film, making one wonder if the writers simply gave up from lack of imagination. Also, the filmmakers tried to really work the 3D angle, making gore and explosions really pop out to the audience, which is noticeable even in a 2D situation, as was my experience. These effects might have been more impressive in 3D, however, as on DVD they are simply more obvious than anything else.

3D makes you feel like you really WERE impaled by a steel beam!
The acting is about what you'd expect from the third sequel to a film that didn't have any great acting to begin with (though the original was a launching pad for Ali Larter and Sean William Scott). Campos gets better as the film goes along, but his character is neurotic, nerdy and not very confident in front of the camera. It hearkens back to Devon Sawa's character in the original, but doesn't make for an interesting lead role. VanSanten, who plays his girlfriend, is not very independent. She generally goes along with whatever Campos' character says should be done, and VanSanten is simply not interesting enough an actress to make that work. Webb, who plays a bitchy friend, and Zano, who plays a douche-y friend, don't inspire the audience to want them to live throughout the film. Mykelti Williamson is the best of the bunch as a recovering alcoholic who mourns the accidental deaths of his wife and child due to his drinking. But acting-wise, it seems like Williamson doesn't care much for the story here and simply follows the script like a yellow brick road until the end. The only other character worth mentioning is former Baywatch star Krista Allen as a MILF (their word, not mine) who survives the initial disaster. Her one scene to shine is done well, but there's a reason she's not known for much more than her pretty face.

Whoop, she's defiant. That means she's about to die
With a lousy script, cast, and 3D conversion, The Final Destination is trite, hollow, and only exciting at all when someone is about to be killed off. These moments are few and far between however, and the lack of interesting characters means that even those deaths mean little compared to the other films in the series. This should have been the final entry into the Final Destination memoirs, but the film's unexpected success (it's the most financially successful film in the franchise to date) means that despite the horrible reviews that accompanied it to the ball, it didn't dance it's final dance. So thank you, Warner Brothers, for taking something that should be dead now and reviving it once again for cheap gain. I can only imagine the horrible acting and vague differences in plot you conjure up for the next entry. It's a shame, since I liked the first three films in the series, but it's time to put this one to sleep, and live up to the full meaning of the film's title.
Don't play on escalators, kids!

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