There are a lot of adages that could have applied to the Final Destination franchise by this now. With most horror movies, it's often "The original was the best", but Final Destination 2 is arguably better than its predecessor (an assessment I'd agree with). "Third time's the charm" also fails to hold water: 3 was, in my mind, the series' first disappointment despite some top-notch trademark bloodletting. Now we have the awkwardly titled fourth film The Final Destination, which actually twists one of these old sayings as a tagline: "they saved the best for last" becomes "Death saved the best for 3D". Once again, neither phrase fits: this is the worst entry in the series.
One of the worst elements is the 3D. I know, a 3D Final Destination sounds great on paper, but in execution there are some unexpected problems. The 3D process itself is an expensive one, and that seems to have eaten up a significant chunk of the film's budget. All three previous films open with a Grand Guginol of violence, but the one that kicks off The Final Destination suffers because it uses CGI the production apparently couldn't afford. Almost every splatter shot during the racetrack destruction looks half-finished, robbing the flying tires and flaming auto parts of believable weight and force. Director David R. Ellis also helmed the superior second movie, and one of the things that works so well about the first sequel's opening highway crash is the numerous shots of real stuntpeople crashing real cars and motorcycles. In fact, most of Final Destination 2 involves clever makeup effects and physical gags; not only is it disappointing that the CG is done so poorly, it's also lame that Ellis chose to go that route in the first place.
During the rest of the movie, the ridiculously elaborate Rube Goldberg-style deathtraps don't measure up either. (Very mild spoilers in the rest of the paragraph.) A few of them (set at a salon, a pool, and on a mall escalator) are entertaining, but only the last one packs even part of the punch of previous gags like train-flung sheet metal (the original), explosion-propelled barbed-wire (2) or a nail-gun incident (3). To make matters worse, The Final Destination actually opens with a CG montage of deaths from the series, which only serves to remind the audience what this one fails to live up to. One gag is extremely reminiscent of an infamous moment from one of the other films, and another commits the worst sin of all: trying to fake in the payoff without actually showing it to us. No dice, movie.
The cast is extremely generic. Star Bobby Campo looks a little like Joseph Gordon-Levitt but doesn't have any of his on-screen charisma. Actually, his overall look is also vaguely reminiscent of original star Devon Sawa and 3's Ryan Merriman. Shantel VanSanten and Hayley Webb also seem fairly interchangeable with previous FD starlets, while David Webb, as the requisite jerk, follows in the footsteps of Kerr Smith and David Paetkau. The only two standouts here are Justin Welborn and Mykelti Williamson. Welborn was great in The Signal, which looks like it's going end up being my favorite horror movie of the decade, and he's good in the sliver of screen time he has here (his character doesn't even have a name!). Williamson (forever doomed to be remembered as Bubba Blue from Forrest Gump) is not as good as Welborn, looking slightly unsure of what he's meant to be doing, but he's still better than his younger castmates.
It's futile complaining that a teen horror movie doesn't have much of a story, but here I go anyway. The Final Destination, like the ones before it, has vague notions of expanding on "Death's Design", or whatever it is that's picking people off in this series, but Ellis and writer Eric Bress don't have their hearts in it. One of the coolest scenes in 2 was the revelation that the deaths in the original Final Destination had affected all the characters in the sequel, but we get nothing like that here. Much like the Saw franchise, there also needs to be a stronger sense that some of these characters have a chance of surviving. I'm not saying they don't (there's definitely a bit of have-their-cake-and-eat-it-too writing going on in the third act), but we can't care about the characters or Death's Design if we don't believe there's a legitimate chance someone might worm their way out of getting their ticket punched. Disappointingly, The Final Destination has an intriguing idea along these lines, but it plays it for a laugh instead of exploring the possibilities.
Is this really the end for the Final Destination franchise? I'd guess not. Regardless of how poorly the film uses the gimmick and its failure to live up to its predecessors, people are still going to get sucked in by the temptation of seeing death literally fly right off the screen. There's even an extended sequence where the characters go and see a big, explosive 3D movie. I noticed the footage being used was from The Long Kiss Goodnight, even though the dialogue was different. Bad choice. I wished I was watching that in 3D instead.
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