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Final Destination 3
Reviewed by Gary Mitchel, © 2006

Format: Movie
By:   James Wong and Glen Morgan
Genre:   Horror
Released:   February 10, 2006
Review Date:   February 15, 2006
Audience Rating:   R
RevSF Rating:   6/10 (What Is This?)

"When they're scared, people imagine all kinds of things."
— John

A while ago I was whining about the end of August being a dumping ground for movies the studios aren't confident will survive the summer competition. Well, February is where studios send films they're almost sure are going to die. The pickings are usually slim at the first of the year (it's Oscar season and they're concentrating on the end of production for the summer releases, don't ya know?), so less-than-quality films have a better shot at making some cash. Don't believe me? This is the time of year that Uwe Boll's movies are inflicted upon us, and so was Son of the Mask. Forget skipping the theatre in August, avoid celluloid in February.

Thing is, sometimes a good film will sneak out this time of year and go on to be a cult hit. And sometimes — well, sometimes a movie just takes the mediocre middle road. Which brings us to Final Destination 3. It isn't a cinematic crime, but it's no cult smash hit either. It's not a bad movie but it could have been a lot better.

Now, true confession time: I have not seen the first Final Destination. People I trust say that it was quite the enjoyable film. I saw Final Destination 2 and thought it was interesting if flawed. Final Destination 3's biggest problems are that it's the second sequel of a decent movie, and has all the standard flaws of the "teen kill-fest" subgenre.

The movie opens with our group of standard teen stock characters: the not-nice-guy jock, the bubblehead cheerleaders, the nice girl, the annoying younger sister, the sleaze (who's even sleazier because he actually graduated two years ago but keeps chasing high school girls), the dark-but-not-goth couple, and the nice-guy jock. These dead people walking are on their senior trip to an amusement park, where they're going to ride a very cool-looking Devil's Flight roller coaster. (It's here that we get our obligatory Tony Todd cameo. If you're not paying attention, you'll miss it.)

Our heroes are Wendy (Mary "Sky High" Winstead), photographer for the school yearbook, and nice guy jock Kevin (Ryan "Ring 2/Rings" Merriman). They're each dating the other's best friend and so they get along, but as Wendy says, they wouldn't be hanging out if not for that. As the leads they're somewhat fleshed out, but are still more archetypes for us to identify with than actual characters. The rest of the cast aren't developed any more than the shorthand of their school cliques.

So we have Wendy snapping pictures for the yearbook as everyone enjoys the park, doing what little character development there is before everyone gets on the Final Destination Ride O' Doom. Creators James Wong and Glen Morgan do a good job here building tension, filling this happy place with foreboding. If you have any real fear of roller coasters, Final Destination 3 will not help you deal with it. The movie does for the amusement park industry what the first film did for international flights.

The movie kicks into gear when they all get on the ride and Wendy has the required Vision of Horror where we see how everyone is supposed to die. This sequence is done very well. It's visceral, thrilling and scary. It's also a symphony of little things going wrong that leads to bloody tragedy, which is the staple of this series. That's what I love most about the Final Destination movies, death by Rube Goldberg.

After the vision Wendy freaks out, and our cast (except for her and Kevin's dates, oh the angst) is taken off the ride, which then goes on to crash as foreseen. Now Death is ticked, and starts coming after our cast with a vengeance. The hook that's new this time is Wendy's digital camera. It seems that the pictures she took of our gang are indicative of how each person is going to die. This gives her and Kevin a puzzle to work out, deciphering how everyone's going to die so they can try and prevent it.

As they work their way down the list trying to save everyone, Kevin and Wendy get close but don't actually become a romantic couple, which I found surprising and nicely done. Other good parts of the movie are the fairly bloody, somewhat complex and darkly humorous deaths, the one scene of gratuitous nudity (which seems to be making a comeback in horror), expert special effects, a great score by Shirley (Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League Unlimited) Walker, the little coincidences that are scattered through the movie (look for all the times the number 180 pops up), the "Final Destination ending", and James Wong's confident direction.

The downsides are the fact that we are pretty familiar with this routine by now; and the thin nature of the characters keeps us from really investing in them. Most of the cast does what they can with the roles (especially the not-quite-goth couple), but they still don't have a lot to work with.

But here's what I really want to know, and it might be a bit SPOILER-ish. Most of the deaths seem to be inevitable. Our heroes don't manage to save most of the cast, despite their best efforts. This I can wave off because, hey, it's a horror movie. If people didn't die, not so scary. But if Death is going to kill them anyway, (and Death is still an impersonal, if malevolent, force in this installment) then why do our leads get their vision preventing the deaths in the first place? Is there some force working to prevent deaths and it's up our heroes to save themselves, giving them a second chance at life they have to earn? Or does Death just get bored and want to have to devise these complicated, extravagant kills? If it's the latter, Death is a bit of a prick. If this line of thought had been pursued, it would have brought a cool new twist to the story and really justified the making of a third flick in this franchise.

Neither bad nor great, Final Destination doesn't rise above its genre, or its predecessors, but it doesn't sink to the atrocious depths of the genre either. So enjoy, and just try not to thwart Death after viewing. Either Death gets off on it, or gets really pissed that you're giving it more work.

RevSF SpankMuppet Gary Mitchel is a Rollercoaster . . . of Love. Roll-a-coaster! A whoo-whoo-whooooooo!

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