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Tue February 7, 2006
Final Destination 3
Scares and laughs, frequently at the same time
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me . . . ." Emily Dickinson
James Wong's Final Destination 3, set six years after the first installment, may put the final nail in the coffin of a franchise that has traded well on a formula so trite as to elicit laughs that may not have been meant but turn out to delight a jaded audience: the wise-ass, naive, big-breasted teenagers just asking to be cut down in their prime; the ominous carnival setting where the devil can openly operate a death coaster; the brunette who is the only one to foresee the final destinations; and the race with time to solve the devil's murders before they happen.
Even solving the riddle with the help of photos, the heroes, who have initially defeated death, are hampered by the Reaper's relentless pursuit and their own hedonism leading to his final-destination mandate. The only smoothly-operating system is Death's different ways of killing, each time an ingenious variation of a seemingly random fate. I'd say the pay-back scheme is Dantean, but some characters such as the heroine Wendy, played with requisite wonder and disbelief by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, may not get a break even if they are innocent and nubile enough to merit saving.
Director Wong knows how to generate scares and laughs, frequently at the same time, as in the roller coaster sequence where he mixes his techniques and ends up with bodies dangling against a process screen:
"In the roller-coaster-disaster scene the filmmakers will use a combination of an actual roller coaster (at a Vancouver amusement park), computer-generated extensions, wire stunts, computer animation and actual actors in simulated cars shot against a green screen." (IMDB.com) Not high CGI art, but then Peter Jackson's dinosaur chase in King Kong is no better.
Maybe I can give weight to Final Destination 3 by likening its theme to Woody Allen's in Match Point. Both films make visual statements about the randomness of the universe, Allen with the uncertain trajectory of a tennis ball or tossed ring, and James Wong with domino-like sequences that take a broken valve or clumsy mouse to set in motion a series of harmless accidents leading to a character's violent destination. Although Wong certainly doesn't aim at cosmic significance but indulges a determined devil, Allen always believes in luck and an indifferent fate. Wong will make more money on this film than Allen in all his sophisticated pictures. Luck? Go figure.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com