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Entries in Final Destination 5 (2011) (1)

Monday
Aug152011

Final Destination 5 (2011)

Rinse, Repeat.

The first hour of Final Destination 5 is noteworthy only for the spectacularly weird and cool opening credits sequence, in which all of the series' best instruments of destruction fly out of the screen. They shatter plate-glass walls to the sounds of an eerie but catchy techno score, and the whole thing is presented in choppy, almost washed-out montages--as if simultaneously one-upping and improving upon the beginning of the early Friday the 13th films.

Similar to that series, whose fourth installment was called "The Final Chapter", the Final Destination films presumably ended with The Final Destination. Instead of tacking on a "New Beginning" sub-title to the follow-up, the producers have simply slapped a "5" on the poster and moved on to butchering another group of hapless American Eagle models.

I won't get too far into the movie's mechanics because if you've seen the original, you've seen parts three, four, and five already--even if you don't know it (the second one is a true sequel, story-wise, and doesn't feel like a cash-in; though I'm sure it is). All you need to know is that the Big Disaster in this one happens on a bridge. A guy named Sam (Nicholas D'Agosto) has a premonition that the bridge his company bus is crossing will collapse, killing most of his co-workers and then himself. He comes to just before the accident and manages to save his friends' lives.

Within days, though, the survivors start dying off mysteriously, in the order in which they would have died in the collapse. Typically, this is something that the characters have to figure out for themselves in these movies, but Tony Todd, playing a mysterious undertaker, speeds matters up by just coming out with the information--along with the helpful nugget that the kids can spare each of their own lives if someone dies in their place. I've been waiting to see this idea explored for five years, so it was a nice surprise to see the last half-hour devoted to something other than fake suspense and bad CG gore.

I'd like to take a moment to congratulate Tony Todd on being one of the five luckiest people in show-business. Like Survivor host Jeff Probst, his only responsibilities in the Final Destination series involve tweaking the same ominous speech and stepping out from behind things with a steely, bad-ass look in his eyes. Bravo, Sir. Bravo.

So, yes, that last thirty minutes: Sam's best friend, Peter (Miles Fisher), interrupts a romantic evening between Sam and his girlfriend, Molly (Emma Bell). He's shaking and sweaty, and really nervous because, it turns out, he's decided to swap Molly's life for his own. This leads to an almost-satisfying game of hide-and-seek in the kitchen of a French restaurant, where Fisher tries really hard to perfect his Angry Tom Cruise impression. As happens in these movies, the spectre of Death hovers nearby, using both nature and coincidence to set lethal traps for the characters. What's interesting here is that we're never sure if Death will get its way through the gun heating up on the stove or through the actions of the desperate, homicidal kids throwing themselves around the cutlery.

I won't spoil what happens because writer Eric Heisserer nearly pulls off an amazing feat: turning a stale formula on its head with a really cute idea (Hint: He leaves Final Destination 5 open for a sequel, but not for Final Destination 6). The big problem is that this movie is packed with "almosts", most of whose problems come down to pacing. Director Steven Quale lacks any sense of timing and an eye for suspense. He ruins Heisserer's Twisted, Gruesome Death setups before they've even happened, which takes a special kind of cluelessness.

For example, one of the doomed characters is a gymnast. As she warms up for a beam performance, we see the twin overhead AC fans shake violently, causing one of the screws in the vent to come loose; the screw lands on the beam, and the girl skips and twirls around it repeatedly, obliviously; there's also a frayed electrical cord on the floor, which is dangerously close to some dripping water. We bounce back and forth between these perils for minutes--yes, minutes--before she's finally killed off using a bit of misdirection that might have been nifty had everything else not been so drawn out.

Throughout Final Destination 5, we're inundated with scenes of Death covering its bases (and why wouldn't it, with its lousy track record?). That sounds cool on paper, but in the theatre it feels like padding. The filmmakers spend such a disproportionate amount of time on cruelly disposing of the characters that every broken limb and splattered noggin is a reminder of how little time was devoted to building an interesting script. A better movie might have foregone all of the coincidental deaths and staged a Battle Royale-style kill-a-thon in which every character acted as an agent of Death. But the series' mythology is so stale that even this film's perfect, creepy ending scene is ruined by five gratuitous minutes of fake blood and peril.

Despite the cool twist, there's nothing to recommend here unless you just get off on watching characters die in ways you're too simple to imagine.

Okay, there's a minor saving grace: Dave Koechner plays a middle-manager at the paper company whose bus falls off the bridge. He's so pompously goofy that he might as well be in another movie. But don't hop in the car just yet, kids. I'm sure all of his scenes will be cut together in a YouTube clip before this baby hits home video.

I appreciate Heisserer's attempt to change things up, but he just doesn't go far enough. His lack of confidence and originality (combined with Quale's errant belief that CG effects are a toolbox instead of a tool) amounts to little more than a slick, sick highlight reel with a decent surprise accidentally spliced in.