Death Rattle

08/31/2009 5:00 PM |

The Final Destination
Directed by David R. Ellis

At first, 3-D seems like the perfect gimmick for the Final Destination series, a horror franchise in which the slasher is death itself, as manifested in a series of improbably grotesque deathtraps. Every movie begins with the hero foreseeing a massive freak accident, preventing some deaths, and scrambling helplessly as unseen forces stalk the survivors who were “meant” to perish (how or why the hero is blessed/cursed/blursed with these visions is never, to my memory, adequately explained). Basically, the movies string together inventive gore-delivery systems, so the extra dimension provided by newish technology appears ready to compensate for those lacking in the characters or, by this fourth installment, the screenplay.

But the 3-D effects have arrived too late. Added — as movie law should’ve dictated — to Final Destination 3, it would’ve given the series a kick of extra showmanship; with The Final Destination, it’s more like kicking a corpse. The peculiarly reset title, dropping “4” and adding a definite article, actually winds up making perfect sense: this is the off-brand, touring company version, a 3-D makeover away from direct-to-DVD status. Director David Ellis should be well-prepared for this; he did Cellular, Snakes on a Plane and even Final Destination 2, but here he’s lost his instincts for knowing, enjoyable shameless schlock. Occasionally, the violence shows a glimmer of wit, as when an audience for a 3-D movie, wink wink, is suddenly engulfed in an actual explosion from behind the screen. Death is so meta! But for the most part, the filmmakers can’t think of anything more fun than having the dull-witted characters take awhile to learn the rules of the series, like bad actors learning their bad lines, badly.

Acting has never been much the point of this series, which is why it’s so chilling when this installment makes you miss the comparably human antics of the original’s Devon Sawa and Seann William Scott (whose poor-man equivalent appears here), or the sequels’ roster of mostly-forgotten non-stars. The Final Destination graduates its characters from high school, but doesn’t know what to do with them; they appear to be unemployed twentysomething homeowners, so when the survivors pay lip service to the idea of finally living life to the fullest, it’s funnier and more insulting than the computerized gore that fells them. As long as the film is dealing in laziness and opportunism, why not go all the way and have the kidults be spoiled reality stars, or at least cast Audrina Partridge?