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Final Destination 3

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/09/06 23:50:03

"It's official: this is a horror series that actually won't disappoint."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

I like the “Final Destination” movies. I mean I really, really like them. I may, in fact, love them. They’re scary and funny and very self-aware without being obnoxiously so. They are, simply, a very good time at the movies.

It’s not fashionable to say such things, of course. The film’s detractors - of which there are many - say these movies are far to illogical to be any good. The mere premise of the franchise is enough to send many critics howling with laughter. But the lunacy of it all is the entire point; if you give in to the ridiculous set-up, you can be easily won over by the film’s grizzly, gallows humor charm.

The premise, for those of you yet to experience the first two “Destination” films, is this: Some unfortunate teenager has a vision of his/her impending (and horribly violent/messy) doom. Said teen manages to use this vision to escape certain death, keeping a few other friends and passers-by alive as well. BUT: if you escape death, then death will catch up with you. Not in a simple, quick manner, mind you. No, death here is played by Rube Goldberg, and The Rube Reaper will slowly set into motion the worst chain of events possible, thus killing you in the most gruesome of manners. Death, you need to understand, is highly inefficient, but it does has one hell of a sense of humor.

Which brings us to “Final Destination 3.” Here, we have a group of kids escaping certain doom on a rollercoaster ride that goes remarkably wrong. The vision is had by mopey lead character Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who also took a series of pictures the night of the escaped kill ride. These pictures are now clues to how the survivors will meet their end later in the film. For example, the jock who was photographed next to two swords and one of those “High Striker” swing-the-hammer-ring-the-bell games; something in this checklist will wind up causing quite a mess. These “clues” are pretty useless, of course; they merely exist to give the characters some dialogue material in between set pieces.

And the set pieces are what make these movies work. All use the same pattern: a slow build up to create an uneasy tension while the audience ponders just what in the scene will be the ultimate cause of death, followed by an intense release of violence, usually so sudden and so ghoulish that the main reaction is always to involuntarily yell out “oh--!” followed by the expletive of your choosing.

Co-writers and producers James Wong (who also directed) and Glen Morgan both also worked on the first film, and their return here is quite welcome. “Destination 2” wasn’t quite as sharp as the original - it was an effective retread, yes, but a retread nonetheless - and by putting the series back in the hands of the two guys who made it sail the first time around is a wise move indeed. Their wicked sense of humor is in full force, as is their impeccable knack for creating genuine tension. The lead up to the opening roller coaster sequence is perhaps the best moment in the entire series to date, with the filmmakers knowing that the audience knows what’s sure to happen very soon, leaving Wong and Morgan to drag out the inevitable as long as possible, piling on the discomfort while Winstead slowly builds to a full-on panic.

(Like the first movie, they even manage to make the little things as creepy as the big ones. Watch how once again the use of wind where no wind is possible - blowing out a candle, causing chimes to ring - can send a shiver up one’s spine. The filmmakers are terrific at balancing the big moments with the small, both in scares and humor, leaving us with a well-rounded work.)

The smartest thing the filmmakers have done here is refuse to work overtime to connect the story to the earlier films. “Destination 2” strained too much at times to connect itself with its predecessor, weakening the fun in the process. “Destination 3,” however, gives us a few throwaway lines about internet research and urban legends and a mention of the deaths of the first movie, then casually goes about its business. While the title no longer makes any sense (it’s a flying term, not a roller coaster term), it doesn’t even matter. The leftover name is just another joke from the filmmakers, a healthy reminder not to take anything too seriously.

And that’s exactly why these movies work so well. It revels in its ridiculousness, and it invites us to join in. When a woman at the screening I attended yelled out “Yeah, right!” during one scene, I can imagine Wong and Morgan replying dryly, “Exactly.” The fact that this same woman was later screaming and laughing with the rest of the crowd later on shows just how well the duo did their job.

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