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Published: Friday, 2/10/2006

Movie review: Final Destination 3 **


Kevin (Ryan Merriman) and Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead)
in Final Destination 3. In her premonition, Wendy foresees her
friends and herself involved in a catastrophe on a roller coaster. Kevin (Ryan Merriman) and Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in Final Destination 3. In her premonition, Wendy foresees her friends and herself involved in a catastrophe on a roller coaster.
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After many dismal and depressing weeks of circular saw surgery (Hostel), slowly severed spines (Wolf Creek), and self-prescribed eyeball removal (Saw II), there's something almost comforting about a horror picture in which death and dismemberment by nail gun, radiator fan, gym equipment, tanning bed, and roller coaster happens fast and furious. It's nearly nostalgic.

Final Destination 3 may be a very stupid, sloppy movie, but it's also something like an oddly pleasant reminder of a time (say, a year ago) when horror movies were still about the threat of impending doom, not the methodical and protracted in-your-face details of torture.

It's nice to see a bad horror flick without pretensions again, rather than a well-made horror film that thinks the ability to make a professional-looking picture is the same thing as having something to say. The characters in Final Destination 3 may wax philosophical in scene after scene but we never think the filmmakers actually mean it.

Which is smart, because the Final Destination pictures veer so close to becoming parodies of slasher movies, you can taste it. If the torture genre is all about joyless cruelty, these shoot for appalled, grossed-out laughter.

The idea, ridiculous six years ago, hilarious now, is that Death is not embodied by a demon or a picky child with a cowlick or your schnauzer. These movies are too sophisticated for that. (Cough.)

Instead, Death is a malevolent force, invisible but forever watching over your shoulder and chuckling as you fill out your checkbook. Or rather, judging by his actions in these films, Death is an obsessive-compulsive multitasker always on the hunt for Rube Goldberg contraptions to spring on smug high-school students who look 27 years old.

He thinks big then scales back. In the first picture, he blew up an airliner; in the second, and still the coolest set piece in the series, he tore up a highway with tumbling logs.

These scenes are like the prelude before the opening credits in a James Bond picture (and as with 007 movies, often the best thing in the pictures). They also serve the additional purpose of introducing characters we get to know and care nothing about, then watch as they die horrible deaths in grisly, Itchy-and-Scratchy ways.

In Final Destination 3, Death finds a group of high school seniors about to climb on a roller coaster. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as the Last Girl Standing, has a premonition about impending doom. She is a bummer and removed from the park. Yet everyone who didn't heed her warning? Mashed to a pulp. Score one for Mary Elizabeth.

Except, soon after, proving Death definitely needs a holiday, the survivors die in the order they would have died. This time, it's death by everyday minutiae.

For example, remember Mr. Magoo? It wasn't open manholes or falling steel girders that nearly killed Mr. Magoo. It was Death.

The ultimate control freak.

He organizes his work. A Goth gal takes a few (dozen) too many piercings. A pair of vain plastic popular girls become sausages at a tanning salon.

Writer-director James Wong and co-writer Glen Morgan, who returned to the Final Destination series after taking a break on part deux, botch the shocks a bit. That roller-coaster scene, for instance, is a white-knuckler but impossible to comprehend; it's cut up so much, you never get a good look at what's happening.

On the other hand, these guys, who cut their teeth on the casually menacing X-Files, are terrific at teasing: You'd think they were making the best industrial films ever. We get a shot of a game of chance. A close-up on a drip of water, setting sinister things in motion. The drip shorts an electrical box. The spark sets a fire. The fire jars loose a ladder. The ladder knocks over a bowling ball. Bada bing. Heads explode.

It's got to be easier than that.

Death be not proud, I guess.

- Christopher Borrelli



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