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Final Destination 3 (2006) Print E-mail
Friday, 10 February 2006
Six years ago, X-Files veterans James Wong (director/co-writer) and Glen Morgan (producer/co-writer) moved in the theatrical films with “Final Destination.” It was an unexpected hit, enough to produce a Wong-and-Morgan-less sequel in 2003. And now here Morgan and Wong return to the franchise with the third outing.

The premise of the first was that a teenager had a horrible premonition of a disaster on the airplane he’s just boarded with schoolmates. He freaks out and leaves the plane, followed by several others. Sure enough, the plane explodes. But it turns out that this went against “death’s plan.” All these people still have to die, and in the same order they would have on the plane. The movie didn’t make clear what would happen if these people didn’t die, probably because, of course, they do begin dying one by one, usually in accidents requiring a complicated, Rube Goldbergian set of coincidences and accidents.

Morgan and Wong originally wanted the movie to conclude with a few of the kids successfully defying death, but someone decided nope, they all gotta go. This is exactly what happened in “Final Destination 2:” the movie seems to end, then in an epilogue, whoops, there goes the rest of them. And of course, that’s what happens in “Final Destination 3.” So why bother to see a movie in which everyone, likeable or not, is a goner?

Because of how they die, I guess. In the second Final Destination, the big disaster a character foresees was a spectacular, gory freeway calamity. In this one, it’s a roller coast that breaks down, flinging bodies every which way before smashing into the pavement. Wong builds up to the accident very craftily, making waiting for the accident we know is coming similar to the anticipation passengers feel on real roller coasters.

There’s an impish quality to “Final Destination 3” missing in “2”—there’s even a distinct sense that we’re not really supposed to take this very seriously, that it’s something of a series of jokes. The sheer improbability of the deaths verges on, and at time crosses into, black comedy. Still, the deaths are so vividly depicted, often so hideously gruesome, that the laughter tends to choke off at inopportune moments.

It’s not helped by the sheer vapidity of the teenagers in this outing. You can hardly tell the Right Boy from the Wrong Boy; the heroine has no discernible personality, though she is semi-psychic. That is, she can see death coming. Sometimes. A handful of photos figures in about halfway through; supposedly, the photos presage the method of death, but noone can figure out just what the prediction consists of until it’s too damned late.
Not surprisingly, some of the deaths are pretty damned weird. Wong has a good time in a scene set in a Home Depot-like gigantic hardware emporium suggesting that just about everything we see could be a death trap. But that’s just about the only suspense in the movie. And anyway, what difference does it make? Everyone’s going to die.

A guy in a convertible is killed by the license plate on the car behind him, set over the back of his car by a collision with a truck. Someone else is killed by what amounts to a giant fly swatter. A nail gun takes care of someone else. A defiant guy’s head ends up between two colliding weights. And so on and so forth.The most amusing, and yet most difficult to watch death scene is when two teenage girls, Ashley and Ashlyn, who talk in almost archaic Val-speak (everything is “totally”) are introduced. They do a favor for a classmate, then walk off happily saying “that was SO nice of us!” They’ve got to go. And go they do. They climb into tanning beds at a local get-tan-here shop, and a series of consecutive accidents sets them up to be broiled alive. You might ask why a tanning bed would even HAVE a “broil” setting, but never mind.

There are some clumsy lines establishing that yes, this is the same version of the U.S. where the first two not-all-THAT-final Final Destinations took place, and I suppose the fourth will do the same. One is in the works.

But it will be as basically meaningless, even hopeless, as this one. Morgan and Wong are very smart guys with plenty of talent—but Final Destination movies depend on a hopeless, dead-end format. When teenagers battled Freddy Krueger, the deaths were even more effects-laden and spectacular—but Freddy was capable of being defeated (even if not permanently). Here, the villain is Death him or itself, the grim reaper; death is, alas, inescapable by anyone. So how come anyone—especially a series of teenagers—is allowed these precognitive flashes? Why do those photos semi-predict the means of death? Nobody can USE these clues, this evidence.

It’s unusual for a series of movies based on what amounts to a nihilistic view of the universe to even exist, much less march on the way these Final Destinations seemed doomed to. The entertainment they provide is a certain gleeful queasiness—what’s going to happen THIS time?—which has worn itself very thin indeed. Please, New Line, in the next one, let some worthy kid figure out how to get off death’s hit list. Give us a touch, a hint, a soupcon of hope.

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