Friday, January 31, 2003

Final Destination 2 / *** (2003)

"Who would have thought death could be so funny?" That was the initial reaction of a friend and colleague following the promotional screening of "Final Destination 2," the follow-up to the very successful 2000 horror flick in which seemingly normal teenagers were unwittingly dragged into a giant tug-of-war with the maddened fates. What makes her quote so precise is its spot-on accuracy for us as observers; for nearly the entire 100-minute running time, characters conveniently get caught up in superstition, wander into death traps and spin themselves away from the obstacles before they're ultimately done away with via gruesome—but wildly laughable—means. The thought of bodies being sliced and diced like food dishes here should be a horrifying one, of course, but the movie doesn't want to emerge with that attitude. On most occasions, in fact, the material is even silly enough to supply a payoff far greater than most recent comedies.

If the concept of "Final Destination" was as creepy as it was skillful, then "Final Destination 2" sees the idea transplanted into a realm bound equally by senselessness and whimsy. The movie is a lofty spectacle for its kitsch value, a ridiculous and dimwitted teen thriller that seldom takes itself seriously enough to pass off as genuine. And given the climate of horror franchises being revived on endless notes of repetition, this is quite a welcome change. This doesn't make the sequel a better film than the first, naturally, but it's hard not to walk away from the baffling result even a little amused.

The story here is almost a carbon copy of its predecessor's. Towards the beginning, lovely Kimberly Corman (A.J. Cook) and her three friends are on a road trip when she has a mysterious (but lifelike) vision of a freeway pileup taking the innocent lives of several people, including herself and her fellow passengers. Unnerved by the eerie and subtle signs that cross over from vision to reality, she pulls her car into a line of traffic to prevent all those in the line of traffic from being subject to this imminent catastrophe. Onlookers, like the curious Officer Thomas Burke (Michael Landes), aren't quite sure to make of her weird ramblings, but when they see the pileup manifest farther down the highway for themselves, they take immediate concern to her premonition. Unfortunately, in typical plot fashion, this means that she and every vehicle inhabitant that was halted behind her have all been marked by Death, who, as the first movie so happily informed us, always comes to collect those who have cheated him at one time or another. The fact that this particular pileup occurred exactly a year after the tragedies of the first film doesn't do much to sway some of their fears, either.

To help further the hysteria of these worried people, the movie anchors them to the eerie events of the past. Firstly, the lone survivor of the first feature, the consistently alert Clear Rivers (Ali Larter), emerges from her self-imposed seclusion to offer her insight and help into keeping the pileup escapees on their toes. Secondly, a convenient plot device links all the marked individuals to the mysterious deaths of Clear's now-deceased old friends. And lastly, the movie revisits the mysterious Candyman character, a tall and creepy dude who rambles about the Grim Reaper's "cleanup" patterns like an aficionado of riddles, but admits that even systems as elaborate as his may have loopholes.

All of this setup is really just a platform for the movie's visual effects artists, who spend ample amounts of time coming up with violent death sequences that daunt, startle and even flabbergast members of the audience, often reducing them to thunderous laughter in the process. The direction is never about who lives or dies, though, but how most of them come to their inevitable demises. And that's an acceptable approach here, because "Final Destination 2" doesn't want to implement gravity on its preposterous conviction. The movie knows it is being silly and has morbid fun in doing so, and a climactic sequence involving a kid who was pulled out of the path of a speeding car earlier in the film is reason enough to believe there was no other intention.

The movie was directed by David Richard Ellis, who, along with a script established on sheer campiness, shows no gesture of logic in his gutsy attempt to present the sequel as a polar opposite of its precursor. He and his writers are actually newbies to this field, but they often throw the lurid subject matter at us like real professionals, who know there is no point in going for credibility the second time around. "Final Destination 2" may not be on the level that its creepy, unnerving and effective predecessor is, but what it lacks in thrills it nearly makes up for in delicious—if gratuitous—absurdity.

Written by DAVID KEYES

Cast & Crew info:
Ali Larter: Clear Rivers
A.J. Cook: Kimberly Corman
Michael Landes: Officer Thomas Burke
Terrence 'T.C.' Carson: Eugene Dix
Keegan Connor Tracy: Kat
Enid-Raye Adams: Dr. Kalarjian

Produced by Richard Brener, Toby Emmerich, Justis Greene, Sheila Hanahan, Matt Moore, Craig Perry, Jeffrey Reddick and Warren Zide; Directed by David Richard Ellis; Screenwritten by J. Mackye Gruber, Eric Bress and Jeffrey Reddick

Horror (US); Rated R for strong violent/gruesome accidents, language, drug content and some nudity; Running Time - 100 Minutes

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