Final Destination, TheReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 08/28/09 20:24:02
This weekend, hardcore horror fans across the country are faced with an incredibly tough decision to make--which crappy extension of a franchise long past its prime will they be avoiding first? In one corner is “Halloween II,” Rob Zombie’s crude and repellent follow-up to his equally unnecessary 2007 remake of the John Carpenter classic that once again allows him to wallow in his continuing fetishes for sadistic violence, a production design aesthetic apparently inspired by truck stop toilets he may have used while touring with his band and his dogged insistence that his wife has talent as an actress. In the other is “The Final Destination,” the fourth installment of the series that is based on the concept that Death is a petulant Rube Goldberg fanatic who devises ridiculously complicated methods for people to die in the most splatter-heavy ways imaginable as punishment for having the foresight to avoid one of his other elaborate deathtraps. This is a decision that requires the patience and intellect of a Talmudic scholar and alas, while I may be many things, a Talmudic scholar is not one of them. However, I am a film critic who, out of some misguided sense of professional obligation, has actually seen both films and can render some kind of verdict in that regard. In this case, if you can miss only one of these titles this weekend, you should be sure to miss “The Final Destination” because “Halloween II” at least vaguely resembles an actual movie at times--a vile, sadistic, grimy, hate-filled and socially, ethically and morally reprehensible movie to be sure, but a movie nevertheless. “The Final Destination,” on the other hand, takes a franchise that was never very good to begin with and which quickly devolved with each successive sequel and somehow fails to come within reaching distance of the abysmally lowered artistic bar set by its predecessors.If you have never seen a “Final Destination” film before (and therefore still have joy in your heart), it still sticks slavishly to the template set up by the 2000 original. A dumb young thing has a sudden premonition of a grisly cataclysm that is about to occur and manages to get a few friends and associates to safety before disaster hits. Alas, according to the half-assed theology of these films, they have messed with Death’s grand scheme and each survivor is picked off one by one in a wildly gruesome and elaborate manner while the heroic boy and girl run around attempting to save them while trying to outwit Death’s design for good. Needless to say, their plans go gunny and by the end credits, everyone in the cast has pretty much been reduced to piles of pulp. This time around, the cataclysm is a disaster at a NASCAR race that kills 52 people but leaves a handful of dopes briefly counting their lucky stars until they start getting croaked one by one. Of course, to reveal what happens during the film’s death sequences would be unfair--they are, after all, the only reason that anyone would contemplate seeing it in the first place--and as a result, wouldn’t dream of going into detail about what happens. Suffice it to say, most of the deaths on display are uninspired variations of sequences seen in the previous installments (the opening credits even offer brief reminders of past highlights) while a couple of others borrow so heavily and blatantly from other sources that both Chuck Palahniuk and the estate of the late humorist Michael O’Donoghue could both sue screenwriter Eric Press for plagiarism and come away with hefty settlements.(Of course, that would presumably require admissions that they actually saw the film and I am not sure there is enough settlement money out there to make that worthwhile.) Okay, I will spill the beans on one because it manages to somehow become the single most tasteless thing seen in a franchise that previously heralded a plane crash with the music of John Denver and tried to evoke 9/11 in an explanation of its mythology. A racist (that is actually how he is billed in the trailer) decides to get revenge on a black security guard whom he holds responsible for the death of his wife by burning a cross on the guy’s lawn. Instead (and please don’t ask how), his burning body winds up being dragged through the streets by his runway tow truck. If anyone can explain to me why that is not a monstrously tasteless concept to introduce into a crappy horror film, please write in and do so. On second thought, don’t.
Truth be told, I have never been a fan of the “Final Destination” series--there has always been something about the whole concept of a film series devoted to nothing but ridiculously elaborate sequences of gory violence, often staged for allegedly humorous effect and with only the barest narrative tissue to connect them, that has always kind of bugged me and bear in mind, this is coming from someone who has raved in the past over the works of the likes of Brian De Palma and Dario Argento. In the cases of those two filmmakers, however, such sequences are used to drive the narrative along in addition to providing sudden shocks and even when they don’t, they are usually designed and executed in such visually astonishing ways that viewers are too caught up in the unexpected ways in which they evolve to notice that things aren’t making much sense from a plot standpoint. “The Final Destination,” on the other hand, essentially eschews what little commitment to narrative it displayed in the previous chapters and once the premise is set up, it becomes an endless series of set pieces that all evolve in the same manner (after five minutes of teasing viewers with different ways in which the characters could be bumped off, something else comes in from left field to reduce them into something resembling grape jelly. As additional proof of its laziness, the film has its nominal hero (Bobby Campo) receive visions of each and every death--in the past, they only got a glimpse of the big opening kill fest--so that whatever minor suspense that might have been generated is subverted before it can even begin. Moreover, when that becomes too restricting, the script then takes the few nominal rules that it has developed about what can and can’t happen and throws them to the wind. At one point, a girl is trapped in a car wash and appears about to die when it turns out that it was someone else’s time to go first--does this mean that Death was just goofing around with her? If so, that would seem to suggest that Death is a jumbo-sized tool.Before casting “The Final Destination”--and let us all say a prayer in the hopes that turns out to be true--to the dim recesses of the mind where crappy genre films go to be forgotten forever, I should mention its only two especially notable aspects. The first is the lone bit of clever screenwriting in the whole of the entire series--a despondent victim-to-be can’t take the pressure anymore and decides to commit suicide but since that would take him out of Death’s batting order, he finds himself unable to off himself. This is an inspired idea and suggests that a “Final Destination” film could offer viewers something of value if the filmmakers actually took the time to really explore their premise instead of wasting it on dumb gross-out gags and cheap gimmicks. Speaking of cheap gimmicks, the other is the fact that, in perhaps a tacit sign that the series is either out of gas or headed for the direct-to-video wilderness the next time around, the film is being presented in 3-D. Of course, the process isn’t used in any especially creative way--all it does is shove knives, scissors, spikes and other things that come to a point off the screen and into viewers’ laps. In fact, there is only one thing in “The Final Destination” that doesn’t come to a point and that is the film itself.
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