For all of you budding screenwriters, here is a simple set of guidelines to help you pen the next Final Destination film (yes, there will probably be another, even if it's direct-to-video): First, devise really hideous, graphic ways for people to die -- five or six deaths should do it. Second, tie the gruesomeness together by having paper-thin characters explain the plot -- the grim reaper gives chase to those who've cheated death -- over and over again. Lastly, keep the dialogue simple and void of any entertaining qualities, relying on devices like flipping the bird for big laughs.
That, in summary, is all of Final Destination 2, the generally bland follow-up to the far more likable original from 2000. Here, instead of a clairvoyant teenage boy having visions of a plane explosion, there's an equally clairvoyant teenage girl getting a premonitory look at a massive highway pileup. Director (and former stunt expert) David R. Ellis (Homeward Bound II), and first-time screenwriters J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress really don't get much more creative than that, instead leaning on the concept of the original to get them through.
Their problem: They've run the idea to staleness with only two films. Teen sees disaster in the future, warns others, saves lives, gets chased by an invisible death for having snuck away from a grisly fate. Gruber and Bress try to concoct a more elaborate plotline about "death working backwards" and "the introduction of new life," but it sounds like a lot of blah blah rubbish, a goofy add-on to the same old thing.
What works for this genre's audience, of course, are the deaths. As in the first film, each "accident" is orchestrated to be full of maddening suspense and coincidence, as Rube Goldberg-ian circumstances take out yet another member of the already-paranoid cast.
These scenes' false starts - like the lottery winner who meets his demise not when we expect, but soon after - can be fun, but the total execution (no pun intended) of each set piece is generally flat. Rather than letting sheer surprise drive the shock value, as director James Wong did with the first film, Ellis heads right for the lowest common denominator, going for gross nearly every time. (One untimely ending late in the film is, however, satisfyingly surprising.)
Ellis's reliance on sliced bodies and exploding limbs is clearly reminiscent of the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series, which had '80s teens shrieking in anticipation of the next creatively gory murder. Now, the next generation of yelping teenagers can get a gander at this style of moviemaking, a subgenre generally marked by poor humor, increasingly disgusting body punishment, and a stupidly simple storyline masquerading as some ridiculous, higher level of intellect.
Ali Larter is the only returning featured player from the original film, not that it matters, as the one woman who can impart wisdom to the film's newcomers. The other repeat player is the super-creepy Tony Todd (Candyman) as a sick undertaker who knows too much - kind of like the crazy geezer that appeared in four Friday the 13th editions.
As for that anticipated multi-car mess that begins the film: It's actually edited more effectively in the trailer than in the movie. The scene is a disturbing bore that amounts to nothing more than close-up after close-up of different vehicles meeting their doom. It just doesn't have the scope and shock to hold interest. Kind of like the rest of the movie.
Tons of extras crowd the New Line Infinifilm DVD, including a fact/outtake/screen test track and a filmmaker commentary, plus deleted scenes and other featurettes. (One of the most interesting shows the producers as they hook test subjects up to monitor the vital signs as they watch the film -- in order to measure its effectiveness as a thriller.) New from Toyota: Indoor plumbing.