Final Destination Review

by "Harvey S. Karten" (film_critic AT compuserve DOT com)
March 17th, 2000


Reviewed by Harvey Karten
New Line Cinema
Director: James Wong
Writer: Glen Morgan & James Wong and Jeffrey Reddick
Cast: Devon Sawa, Ali Carter, Kerr Smith, Kristen Cloke, Daniel Roebuck, Roger Guenveur Smith, Chad E. Donella, Seann William Scott, Tony Todd

    By being extra careful--eating right, exercising, moderating drinking and avoiding tobacco--we might cheat death for a while. In the end the grim reaper gets us. How would you feel, though, if you run into a person who could tell you more or less when you're going to die? This is the fascinating concept behind first-time helmer James Wong's supernatural thriller, "Final Destination," a teen-centered picture that stands out from the "Scream" pack by avoiding slashers, threats of slashers, and psychos, and yet keeps us on the edge of our seats almost throughout. The script is not what rivets us: the screenplay was written by a committee. But Wong's graphic Rube Goldberg scenes are captivating to a fault. Characters die by some version of that great cartoonist's notion of falling dominoes. Example: A bowling ball might roll down a ramp, dislodge a rock, which in turn fall onto your toe which causes you to jump, hit your head on an electric wire which breaks, fall into a puddle in which you land and become electrocuted. The schemes that Wong uses to dispatch these mostly attractive characters are not only ingenious: they provide some of the comic tongue-in-cheek moments that are part and parcel of the genre.

    Photographed by Robert McLachlan in lovely Victoria, B.C. to stand in for suburban areas of New York State and for Paris, "Final Destination" centers on handsome Devon Sawa ("Idle Hands") in the role of Alex, an entirely healthy-looking high school kid who has joined others in his French class for a 10-day field trip to Paris. Though the youngsters don't carry guns, they could pass for high-school kids anywhere in the country--making out in the airport lounge, shoving each other playfully and not so playfully, freely using four-letter words. Just before takeoff from JFK, Alex has a graphic premonition that the aircraft will explode upon takeoff, giving director Wong the privilege off creating perhaps the scariest, most trenchant look at an airline disaster from the point of view of the passengers ever filmed. Those who do not get sucked out of the plane are slammed around the cabin and eventually fried by a great ball of fire.

    Alex creates a panicked disturbance to the dismay of his classmates--who are looking forward to landing at DeGaulle in seven hours--but a handful of his pals and one teacher join him in bolting onto land. Minutes later, the kids witness a huge explosion that shatters the large windows of the lounge, and from that point develop mixed feelings about Alex. On the one hand they are grateful for being saved. On the other they wonder whether simply being around this guy will mark them for death--and no wonder. Alex realizes that Death will not tolerate being cheated and is going to go after these people with a vengeance. Alex illuminates a scheme by which one survivor after another will soon die and to boot, he knows the exact order of each person's demise.

    While the one hundred minutes of this movie seem to go by like a shot, few films of this genre can match the delirium of the initial twenty minutes as Wong takes us from the comfortable home of Alex and his folks into the quick dream sequence. He follows up with a rousing eruption that insures that "Final Destination" had better draw good box office its first weekend because you'll never see this on in-flight motion pictures. Guaranteed.

    Some minor flaws challenge credibility. Why does the engineer not stop his train after he crashes into an automobile on the tracks, totaling the car and presumably killing its passengers? And where are all these well-to-do caring parents at take-off time? Not one drives the young people to JFK or hangs around to see the happy bunch off. The teens are a stereotypical bunch, all alike in some respects but each representing a standard character trait. Ali Carter as Clear Rivers is the strong, intelligent type who stands by her man and has faith in his ability to predict the near future, while Kerr Smith in the role of Carter Horton is the handsome but malicious kid who thinks he controls his own destiny--that he will never die. Wong has Daniel Roebuck and Roger Guenveur Smith play the obligatory FBI agents with some humor. When Agent Schreck Wiene complains to his partner that "this kid gives me the creeps," Agent Roebuck counters, "Don't take this the wrong way, but sometimes you give me the creeps."

    With "Final Destination" a more-or-less standard narrative with the usual suspects in the role of teens, their teachers and parents, and the officers watching them, turns into a vibrant film pervaded with ingenious death-inducing devices, an uncompromisingly vivid recreation of an air disaster taken within the cabin and followed up smartly with a shattering discharge, and an appropriate combination of somber discussions and a lightly mocking mood.

Rated R. Running Time: 100 minutes. (C) 2000
Harvey Karten, [email protected]

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