Final Destination (United States, 2000)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

I stand in awe of Final Destination - awe that a motion picture of such unmitigated stupidity could make it to the screen. One short week ago, I berated both Mission to Mars and The Ninth Gate for the lack of intelligence evident in their screenplays. Next to the puerile rubbish that is Final Destination, they're Hawthorne and Dickens. In fact, in order to effectively write this review, I'm going to need a thesaurus to come up with synonyms for "stupid". Yet even words like "moronic" and "idiotic" don't do Final Destination justice.

Somewhere buried deep in the film's premise lies the kernel of an intriguing idea - and that's Final Destination's lone good point. What happens if someone on board a plane has a premonition of disaster, flees from the aircraft before takeoff, then watches in horror as it explodes once it is airborne? This is the kind of meditation on fate that would seem more at home in a foreign art film than in a teenage slasher movie. (In fact, Krzysztof Kieslowski's Blind Chance toyed with similar elements of life, death, and crashing planes.) Of course, it takes about ten minutes for it to become apparent that Final Destination is only going to use this as a hook. The point of the movie has nothing to do with how the survivors cope with guilt and uncertainty. Any existentialist thoughts are quickly squashed. Instead, Final Destination is intent upon illustrating that, while it's possible for seven people to cheat death by disembarking from a doomed plane, the Devil still demands his due. So, with John Denver singing in the background, they start dying one-by-one.

At least there's some variety to the ways in which the characters die, with Rube Goldberg having choreographed half of the bloodbaths. One individual becomes the victim of creeping toilet bowl water (this only happens after the film "teases" us with hints that he might accidentally slit his throat while shaving or electrocute himself). Another learns in a rather graphic way that hard liquor can kill. And someone else is menaced by a homicidal electric cable that conveniently defies all the laws of physics. (But, since it's a tool of the Grim Reaper, I suppose one has to accept a little dramatic licence.) Not since the attack of the lunatic refrigerator in The Mangler have seemingly normal items turned psychotic like this. Next time I'm in the bathroom, you can bet I'll be checking to make sure the toilet isn't leaking.

Butchering the premise is only an egregious enough cinematic sin to earn Final Destination the label of "frustrating," but the movie does so many other things wrong that it quickly ascends to the level of "nearly unwatchable." The dialogue is unforgivably bad. Soap operas are written with more subtlety. One might legitimately ask how any actor could keep a straight face while delivering Final Destination's dim-witted, feeble lines - until you consider the group of thespians saying the dialogue. These actors - primarily Devon Sawa (who played the lead in Idle Hands), Ali Larter (House on Haunted Hill), Kerr Smith (TV's "Dawson's Creek"), and Seann William Scott (American Pie) - have less range than a left fielder with a broken leg. They were born to deliver deep and cheerful pronouncements like "We're all a mouse that a cat has by the tail." (Actually, that one is uttered by Candyman's Tony Todd, who has a cameo as an all-knowing mortician who babbles for about two minutes about "Death's sadistic design.")

Even the special effects are no good. Near the beginning of the film, as Sawa's character, Alex, has a vision of the plane's destruction, we are treated to the same kind of visuals used several decades ago when Christopher Reeve's Superman took to the air. Later, for a beheading scene, the decapitation is so ineptly done that I found myself choking back laughter. Moments like that make you wonder if this film could have had a chance as camp. Unfortunately, the somber, serious tone deflates any hope of this.

This is the feature debut of "X-Files" veteran director James Wong, whose heavy-handed approach cripples a production already beyond redemption. He spends so much time crafting his "boo" moments that they lose all shock value when they finally come along. The point of such quick, cheap scares is that they're supposed to be surprises, not moments that are badly foreshadowed. And if there was any tension, I missed it - probably because I was having such a hard time staying awake. Of course, Wong couldn't have done it all by himself - the final product, which is uglier than a train wreck and far less interesting to observe, is a true group effort. Everyone involved deserves a share of the credit. The deserved final destination for this movie is a reserved plot in the cinematic graveyard, but, based on the projected box office take, I have a sinking feeling it may cheat that fate.

Final Destination (United States, 2000)

Run Time: 1:32
U.S. Release Date: 2000-03-17
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1