Emma Bell, left, Nicholas D'Agosto and Miles Fisher in "Final… (Doane Gregory / Warner Bros.…)
This is one of those times when I really wish I could borrow James Earl Jones to do a Darth Vader reading, so you'd get that echo chamber of doom effect. Since I can't, just use your imagination. Ready?
"Final Destination 5": Prepare to die….
Or maybe, "Final Destination 5": Prepare to groan....
Actually, you should prepare to do both, though if you're a fan of the franchise (Really? You're reading this?), you no doubt know what you're in for already. This is, after all, the series that from the beginning has asked the question — How many ways can characters be killed? — and in the completely, totally, nothing-but-literal sense. Although they'll try to suggest there are deeper themes of predestination, determinism and fate on the table, don't let them fool you; "FD 5" is no philosophical excursion.
It is, however, a really bad bus trip for all the pretty ones who've been invited along for this deadly (metaphorically speaking) ride. I will say, the bus, and the bridge it must cross, does make for a pretty incredible wham-bam opening sequence, but more on that later.
In the not-so-grand tradition of "Final Destination," death is no laughing matter. Well, I take that back, it sometimes is, and "FD 5" is the funniest yet. But the real raison d'être for "FD" filmmakers, and there have been a few since it first drew blood in 2000, is to see just how many kills can be stacked up and how many body parts can be sliced and diced along the way. You can just hear the giggles in the editing bay — the grosser, the better, hee, hee, hee.
And let's be brutally honest: If a "Final Destination" movie can't wring a handful of collective groans and gasps and eeewwwwws out of its audience, it's really not doing its job. I have to hand it to them (imagine severed hand, tendons trailing, flying toward your head at warp speed) — the killing here is nothing if not inventive, in a very campy way.
This is the second time "FD" has come to us in 3-D and for that they couldn't have done better than bringing in Steven Quale to direct. It's his first time in the director's chair on a feature film, but he's been an apprentice to the great wizard — James Cameron — off and on for 20 years. "Avatar" brought Quale's most recent credit as second-unit director — truly the unsung heroes of action moviemaking, usually doing those scenes that require days of tedious rigging to make massive things collapse and crumble in a split second.
Quale kicks things off with a suspension bridge jam-packed with cars, and wouldn't you know it, it's undergoing major renovation with lots of heavy equipment blasting and cutting through concrete. The big crumble is a stunner of an opener that introduces us to the hyperactive, hyperbolic, in-your-face style Quale intends to use for the rest of the movie. He does a bang-up job of sending things flying, and he slays the death scenes. It's the living creatures required to speak the clunky dialogue that kill him.
The opening also serves to introduce us to all the major players that Death has his eye on. Those bodies would be Nicholas D'Agosto, Emma Bell, Miles Fisher, Jacqueline MacInnes Wood, P.J. Byrne, Arlen Escarpeta and Ellen Wroe, who all work at the same company. The film's grown-ups include David Koechner ("The Office") as the unlikable boss and Courtney B. Vance as the detective charged with investigating the deaths we all know are coming. I'd mention their character names if it mattered, but it doesn't.
As always, Death is upper-case, a major player, even when he (I like to think of him as a he, though we don't really know, do we?) is just implied. Unless that guy in the dark coat named Bludworth (Tony Todd) who always shows up at the crime scene along with the ominous music is, nah, never mind. The cliff-hanging questions raised by screenwriter Eric Heisserer (2010's remake of "A Nightmare on Elm Street") are: Did Death actually take a holiday this time? Can someone defy fate? Can we make the "Caution" road signs any bigger? Can we make a smoking gun actually smoke?
What "Final Destination 5" does not have is any fear factors. I am a really easy mark when it comes to scary movies — "Poltergeist" freaked me out, "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (the original) required years of therapy, and "Hellraiser," well, that I will never fully recover from. But "FD 5" did not raise even a single goose bump — which for a movie that bills itself as horror is not a good thing. The camp factor, however, is high and makes the 95 minutes pretty much fly by. The movie never reaches the cleverness of "Scream," but then it doesn't take itself too seriously either — and neither should you.