Reviewing a Final Destination movie is an exercise in futility. Instead of watching closely and taking copious notes, a reviewer simply needs a handy checklist:
Cursory character introductions, check.
Spectacular opening disaster to dispatch the entire cast in a variety of gruesome ways, check.
Panic-stricken realisation that the carnage was merely a premonition, followed by frantic escape, check.
Sombre funeral scene as survivors attempt to make sense of their inexplicable good fortune, check.
Series of grim vignettes as two-dimensional characters are offed in hilariously sticky accidents, check.
One final twist, just as the hero/heroine believes that they've escaped death's design, check.
Now up to its fifth chapter, the Final Destination franchise has got the formula down to a fine art. Albeit the kind of art that's splattered like Pollock's parquet floor. On the surface, there's little reason to go see the latest instalment of the decade-old series - even the film's much publicised 3D enhancement is a second go-round, having already shot its load in the audience's Real-D glasses last time round.
However, the previous sequel might be considered something of a test run, since this time around the producers have clearly raised their game. Not only in terms of inventiveness, but also the quality of the effects and the 3D execution of the, well, executions. Heads are smashed, bodies eviscerated and eyeballs violated in glorious detail. If you despair for the youth of today, this could be the most fun you'll ever cram into ninety minutes.
Of all the films that have been released in James Cameron's favourite format, none lend themselves more immediately to the third dimension than this accident-prone series. Its makers don't need to contrive any reason to wave things in the viewer's face - that's the whole point of the films.
The film isn't without its faults, largely on account of the audience's overfamiliarity with the concept. When a character announces early on that he'll win a tricky colleague over "Even if it kills me", the irony is met with a groan of predictability. Similarly, the ominous harbingers of the early series entries have been replaced with less effective heralds of doom - hence the needless close-up on a sign on some bus steps that reads "Watch your step". That's not a premonition, it's just common sense.
Even the cast can hold their severed heads high for managing to rise above their stock characterisations.
Oh, and can someone please tell me why, in 2011, we're still seeing scenes that depict a short-sighted character losing their glasses and suddenly staggering blindly around, like Helen Keller in a hedge maze? It was stupid enough when Velma kept losing her specs in Scooby Doo, without needing to see the live-action equivalent.
Quibbles aside, the makers of Final Destination 5 deserve some credit for managing to reinvigorate a franchise that was dangerously close to encountering a fatal mishap of its own. For the first time since the original, the series has found a director who knows how to differentiate between gags and gag reflex, whereas his predecessors simply settled for stirring it all together and hoping for the best. This film also adds a few new wrinkles to the mythology, which give its ending a more palpable sense of jeopardy than the previous films' increasingly hysterical denouements. There's also a pretty laudable twist in this tale to reward long-term fans of the series.
Even the cast can hold their severed heads high for managing to rise above their stock characterisations. These films have never prioritised casting, seemingly settling for whoever happened to be in town when the cameras start rolling. But this rag-tag group of low-rent lookalikes (particularly Tom Cruise and Drew Barrymore) at least manage to hold our interest until we see their nubile bodies pierced like a goth's earlobe.
Ten years on, it's safe to say that the franchise is still in reasonable health. Not bad for a series that started out as a speculative script for an episode of the X-Files. Unlike other long running series, which rely on wise-cracking, mask-wearing killers for their thrills, this concept demands innovation and creativity for its kills. With each new entry attempting to up the stakes, writers are willing to throw the kitchen sink (as well as any other implement that comes to hand) at their easily disassembled characters.
For the record, it's also worth mentioning that the Final Destinations represent the closest that Hollywood has ever come to understanding the debilitating power of OCD. Forget about Jack Nicholson's Oscar-winning turn in 'As Good As It Gets' - anyone who's ever spent half an hour repeatedly checking the taps, sniffing the gas hob or moving glasses away from the edge of the table, will recognise the special insight that these film-makers bring to their subject.
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