Final Destination Review

by James Sanford (jamessanford AT earthlink DOT net)
March 18th, 2000

These days, if you see a bunch of teens on the screen
you can bet they're on their way to either a) the bedroom, b) the prom, or c) an early grave. The luckless bunch in "Final Destination" turns out to be on the express train to Heaven, but the movie is so absurd the audience may feel trapped on the highway to Hell.
    The best that can be said of "Destination" is it starts off with an intriguing idea, which should remind some viewers of the 1996 TWA Flight 800 tragedy. High school senior Alex (Devon Sawa) is about to embark on a flight to Paris with his fellow students when he suddenly has a terrifying premonition and becomes convinced the plane will explode. When Alex freaks out, he's removed from the aircraft, along with several others, including the obnoxious bully Carter (Kerr Smith) and the cryptic Clear (Ali Larter), a loner who doesn't seem to be able to afford any shirts long enough to cover her belly-button. Within minutes after takeoff, the plane does in fact blow up, which arouses the suspicions of the FBI and almost instantly makes Alex about as popular in his community as poor Cassandra was in ancient Troy. Only Clear seems sympathetic to this reluctant soothsayer and even she bristles a bit when Alex begins insisting the worst is not over for this handful of survivors.
    Up to this point, director James Wong has cobbled together a passably cheesy chiller. But once Alex's cohorts start to die off suddenly (due to such odd phenomena as unexplained surges of toilet water and semis that manage to move silently through downtown streets), "Destination" goes into an irreversible tailspin. As the screenplay becomes progressively sillier, Wong tries to compensate by piling on the gore -- it's not enough here for someone to merely get their throat slashed if there's also a way to have them set on fire and impaled with multiple steak knives.
    What's behind it all? Evil spirits? The ghost of a disgruntled classmate? Satan? Since the screenwriters are too lazy to think up an answer, they have Alex simply attribute all the mayhem to "Death."
    Give Death some credit, though. Instead of simply inflicting these kids with fatal aneurysms or sudden strokes, Death goes all out to give each of its victims a splashy going-away party. When it appears check-out time is near for Clear, Death sends lightning bolts out of a cloudless sky, has a downed power cable shower her house with sparks, finds a way to crack open her above-ground swimming pool and even takes the time to blow up her car.
    One of Alex's teachers is identified as Val Lewton, which may or may not be a nod to the great director of such horror classics as "Cat People," "Isle of the Dead" and "The Leopard Man." What Lewton understood -- and what Wong and company miss completely -- was that often we're more frightened by what we don't see than what we do. So even though "Final Destination" refuses to spare us a single bloody detail, it's a whole lot less chilling than it was meant to be. James Sanford

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