The year is still new, and yet something tells me I may not come across a more unintentionally hilarious title, or film, in the next 11 months than Final Destination 2. Only Finaler Destination would have been better. Or maybe Absolutely Final Destination: No Really, We Mean It This Time. But alas, Final Destination 2 is no comedy. It is about death, and how death is champing at the bit, waiting for WB Network clones to slip up so he can construct elaborate Mr. Magoo-like chain reactions that result in, well, death. What I learned about mortality from the film is this: Death is an obsessive-compulsive dork with too much free time on his hands and a two-picture deal.
This movie is what the Swedish master Ingmar Bergman might have shot if he had grown up in Southern California, spent his allowance on a Daily Variety subscription, watched Real World marathons on MTV, snacked on quickie horror movie sequels every weekend at the multiplex, gone to New York University film school, and graduated with straight Cs in filmmaking and screenwriting, but straight As in pandering and eyeball-gouging.
Death takes a holiday in Final Destination 2, and he knows his disposable-income demograph-ic targets big time. Specifically, he's following four cynical upper-middle-class high school kids to spring break when one of them, a comely dark-haired Kimberly (A.J. Cook), has a premonition on the on-ramp that she, her friends, and the people in the cars behind her will meet a grisly end. She sees a truck carrying logs dumping a few on the freeway. She sees a horrific pileup. Men burning alive. Heads exploding.
She sees this, inexplicably, from the viewpoint of each person killed. So on top of being psychic, I guess, she reads minds and her visions have joined the motion picture editors union: They play in her head with the nimble montage of trained professionals, complete with a soundtrack of rampaging Incubus tunes.
This is the same setup as the original Final Destination, a dead-teenagers horror picture from 2000 that, like this one, starts cleverly and suspenseful and quickly goes dumb. In the first film, a teenager boarding a plane pictures the plane exploding. He freaks out, gets out, and his friends follow, and the plane explodes, leaving a handful of survivors who “cheated death.” Do you see the slender thread that separates this from the art house? If any two survivors were Swedish, or even one cast member was older than 30, these people would spend the Final Destination movies challenging the Grim Reaper to chess tournaments or wandering the moors feeling guilty and miserable.
Instead, as in the first film, the survivors just walk in and out of scenes and avoid open manhole covers and sparking electrical outlets, all orchestrated by the invisible hand of death, all the while trying to, we hear endless times, “repair the rift in death's grand design.” It's like the most existential Peanuts special ever. The X-Files veterans who made the first one have been replaced with stunt man-turned-filmmaker David R. Ellis (no joke). His primary thrill is teasing us with the various everyday objects that death may choose as execution tools, then letting his victims plead a little for their life before offing them. So we get death by air bag, death by pigeons, death by barbed wire, death by elevator, death by log, death by barbecue grill, and death by slipping on spaghetti and having a fire escape ladder slam into your eyeball. (Trust me, you had to be there.)
What's missing is suspense and the ounce of compassion that makes any decent horror movie work, be it Halloween or Resident Evil. Since we know nearly all of the characters will meet their end - death is the bad guy, after all - the only question is when and how. To be fair, the opening traffic disaster is unnerving and well-orchestrated. But the rest is tedious, spiked only with the laughs of a good bad movie.
And the dialogue is terrifically bad:
Like “We did it. We cheated death.” And “Look. We drove a long way to get here, so if you know how to stop death, tell us.” There's arithmetic, too. The survivors look for a pregnant woman who was on the on-ramp with them, leading us to ponder the following equation: If death can be stopped by the arrival of new life, then how many survivors will be spared by one birth? One, right? It'd be wrong of me to give away the ending, but let me say this: Death is bad at math.