Final Destination Review

by Scott Renshaw (renshaw AT inconnect DOT com)
March 17th, 2000

(New Line)
Starring: Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith, Kristen Cloke, Seann William Scott, Chad E. Donella.
Screenplay: Glen Morgan & James Wong and Jeffrey Reddick. Producers: Warren Zide & Craig Perry and Glen Morgan.
Director: James Wong.
MPAA Rating: R (profanity, violence, adult themes)
Running Time: 95 minutes.
Reviewed by Scott Renshaw.

    After enduring FINAL DESTINATION, I have a renewed appreciation for David Duchovny. I've always found his work on "The X-Files" to be plenty entertaining, but I never realized how integral his performance as Fox "Spooky" Mulder was to the success of the show. Duchovny has one of the most thankless jobs on television: He spends a fair portion of every single episode spitting out ridiculous speculative exposition. Mulder's leaps of logic make him the Bob Beamon of investigative analysis; it is only because Duchovny plays his dialogue with a strange combination of confidence and deadpan resignation that you don't want to throw something at the screen every time Mulder zigs from the Point A of "victim with cut throat" to the Point Z of "werewolf on the prowl."

    Glen Morgan and James Wong have been part of the "X-Files" creative team since day one, and have been key players in some of the series' best episodes (including "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man"). They've teamed up for another wild supernatural premise in FINAL DESTINATION, but instead of David Duchovny they have ... Devon Sawa. Sawa plays Alex Browning, a high school senior looking forward to a class trip to Paris. While sitting in the plane waiting to take off, however, he has a powerful premonition of a mid-air disaster. Alex and several classmates are forced to leave the plane in the ensuing panic-induced disruption, and consequently become the only survivors when the disaster does come to pass. They all face a mixture of relief and survivor guilt, but Alex has an even stranger reaction. After one of the survivors meets a strange demise, he becomes convinced that they were all meant to die on that plane, and that Death itself may be stalking those who cheated it.

    Exactly how Alex becomes convinced is a huge part of the problem. Essentially, Alex accepts the rantings of a creepy mortician (erstwhile Candyman Tony Todd) after he and fellow survivor/pseudo romantic interest Clear (Ali Larter) break into a funeral home. The mortician expounds at length on how Death might take exception to having its victims slip through its fingers, and Alex instantly begins formulating a survival strategy based on these wild speculations. Characters like the mortician are commonplace in supernatural horror films -- the protagonist has to have some expert from whom to learn the rules of the strange game he finds himself playing -- but this particular character is a ridiculous contrivance. Alex finds an expert on Death's psyche just when he needs one, never questioning for a second the credentials of an undertaker for knowing the behaviors that get Death miffed.

    It doesn't help that Sawa doesn't exactly act the heck out of the part. An earlier incarnation of the story by Jeffrey Reddick featured adults as the survivors, before New Line, Wong and Morgan turned it into an adolescent-centered shocker. The performers are generally functional at best -- Chad E. Donella, himself an "X-Files" veteran as this season's tormented brain-sucker, is a notable exception -- but it's the tragic combination of Sawa and the script that sinks the film. The rules Alex intuits for Death's modus operandi -- taking the survivors in the order they were meant to die in the plane crash, skipping victims when someone intervenes, etc. -- are convoluted at best. With Sawa dispensing those rules to the audience, they're laughable. A more seasoned actor might have made something of Alex's ever-more-obsessive interest in figuring out the workings of fate. Sawa fumbles and flounders, lacking the least shred of what Duchovny brings to similarly exaggerated material.

    Critics and viewers have learned not to expect much from horror films heavy on teen cast members, even those with potentially promising pedigrees (e.g. the work of another "X-Files" alum, David Nutter's DISTURBING BEHAVIOR). Still, you want to believe that talented people can take a unique premise and give it a jolt of creativity. Wong brings plenty of visual style to the table, and long-time writing partners Wong and Morgan have fun nodding to their thriller forebears (characters named after Hitchcock, Browning, Val Lewton and even their "X-Files" boss Chris Carter) and selecting John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" as the harbinger of the Grim Reaper. They're just missing one crucial piece: a lead actor who knows how to play the patently absurd with a wink and a shiver. FINAL DESTINATION is left to play around with Rube Goldberg deathtraps, fatally bereft of anyone who can take the silly and make it Spooky.

    On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 x-fails: 4.

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