Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: James Wong

Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ryan Merriman, Kris Lemche, Alexz Johnson, Sam Easton, Jesse Moss, Gina Holden, Texas Battle, Chelan Simmons, Crystal Lowe, Amanda Crew

MPAA Rating: R  (for strong horror violence/gore, language and some nudity)

Running Time: 1:33

Release Date: 2/10/06

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Review by Mark Dujsik

When a movie franchise gets to its third installment, either the material is well worn out or tying up the loose ends to finalize a trilogy. Traditionally, horror franchises are notorious for dragging out their fundamental premises through sequel after sequel, bleeding the formula dry. With its third outing, the Final Destination series surprisingly gets a second wind. Perhaps the main reason for this is the return of co-writers James Wong (who also directed the film) and Glen Morgan, who wrote the original (with series creator Jeffrey Reddick) but sat out the second time around. The second movie twisted the original's innovation in silly ways (Death's plan is working in reverse? You can actually beat Death by bringing new life into the world? Huh?) and preferred outright carnage to terror (plate glass crushing a kid, barbed wire slicing a guy into thirds, and the opening highway crash). Final Destination 3 is a back-to-basics retread of the original formula that in certain small ways actually surpasses the first movie. This is a prime example of formula filmmaking, one that slightly tweaks elements of said formula in interesting ways and adheres to the old adage that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

A group of high school seniors is on their senior trip at an amusement park. Wendy Christensen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is taking pictures for the year book and spending time with boyfriend Jason (Jesse Moss), best friend Carrie (Gina Holden), and her boyfriend Kevin (Ryan Merriman). The highlight of the night will be a ride on a roller coaster, but after boarding the ride, Wendy has a premonition of the coaster crashing, killing everyone on it. Wendy freaks out, and Kevin and group of others end up getting off the ride. The roller coaster crashes just as she had envisioned with Jason and Carrie still onboard. Devastated, Wendy keeps to herself and plans on skipping graduation, and Kevin tries to console her, attempting to keep the promise he made to his friend to keep an eye on her. Kevin did some research online and discovered that this same thing happened six years ago when a high school student envisioned a plane crash and got off the plane with some of his classmates. The plane crashed, and those who got off the plane died mysterious deaths afterwards. Could this be a similar situation?

Of course it is. Soon, Wendy begins to have strange feelings about the survivors, and they begin to perish in freak accidents. Our sense of discovery is gone, having experienced this scenario two times before, but the central characters here are not the quick learners of the previous installment. They have to figure things out, which means trying to decipher the photos in Wendy's digital scrapbook. See, Death's clues this time around come in the form of the final photographs of the future victims. So when Wendy sees an overexposed photo of the two class ditzes holding an inflatable palm tree and they later die in a tanning bed accident (the film's most gruesome and terrifying dispatch), she sees the connection. This means Wendy and Kevin are on sight for the deaths of their classmates, acting like CSI investigators for a death that has yet to occur. It's a somewhat intriguing spin, making our heroes more active and mirroring our own sense of morbid fascination in trying to figure out how the seemingly random events leading up to a character's death will play out to the payoff. The deaths, needless to say, are inventive and unexpected (in terms of details, of course), and their slow buildups are more often than not nerve-racking.

Death's sense of humor is less apparent this time around, but Wong and Morgan's is spot-on. Humor in a movie that focuses on grotesque, inevitable death is a tough sell, but the music choices alone ("Turn Around, Look At Me" as Wendy is followed by a stalker, "Love Rollercoaster" some time after the disappointing opening disaster, and "Love Train" over the credits that follow the movie's genuinely frightening closing disaster) work as sly self-parody. Less along those lines are the characters. Yes, the movie is filled to the brim with stereotyped teensóa pair of shallow girls, a Goth couple, a jockóbut they don't come across that way. The shallow girls are good-hearted, the Goth guy argues with a minister about the equality of death, and the jock thinks he's going to live forever (ok, two out of three isn't bad). Essentially, the characters are smarter than the average shooting-range targets that usually make up the casts of similar fodder. Wendy and Kevin stand over the graves of the deceased significant others and wonder why they don't feel their spirits, and a nice scene of sisterly love between Wendy and her younger sister Julie (Amanda Crew) actually gives some emotional heft to the climax.

The movie has some other nice formula adjustments, such as implying that a human element could serve in Death's design and making the fatalities occur out of ordinary events without a supernatural presence starting the wheels in motion. A series like this could go on into the foreseeable future until they cease to become profitable, but Final Destination 3 serves to give one less dread about that possibility. As long as Wong and Morgan stick around to keep them on track.

Note: I mentioned in my review of Final Destination 2 that the movie left no room for a sequel. Little did I know this one would get it right and continue to put some of my biggest fears on the screen. I'm scared of flying, semi-trucks on the highway freak me out, and one has to force me on to a roller coaster. Unless the next opening disaster involves a submarine or a spaceship, though, I think I'm pretty safe.

Copyright © 2006 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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