Final Destination 3 (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

With each new outing, the Final Destination movies are getting better. At this rate, by the fifth or sixth entry in the series, one of them will finish the year in my Top 10. Or maybe the films' relentless pursuit of creative mayhem and murder is wearing me down. Things that make the third installment more easily digested than its predecessors: the best opening sequence of the series, actors for whom acting school is not uniformly recommended, dialogue that is sometimes not laughable, and an ending that (finally) doesn't cheat. Then, of course, there are the deaths, which are a delicious mixture of red herrings and Rube Goldberg deviousness. The fun with these isn't figuring out who is going to get it, but how they're going to get it. Director James Wong approaches the moment of maximum bloodletting with a macabre sense of humor. Final Destination 3 replaces the unintentional chortles of its predecessors with intentional humor, and that's to its benefit.

Death - the ultimate serial killer - is on another rampage. He's even got a theme song (no, it's not "Here Comes the Reaper"). But the poor guy needs to practice more with his scythe. He's got bad aim, and fails in his bid to kill a bunch of people in a roller coaster ride accident, so now he has to go to the trouble of offing them one-by-one. Admittedly, this allows for more variety and creativity, but think of the other dastardly things he could be plotting instead… There are ten unexpected survivors for Death to take down one-by-one. A tanning machine accident (supplying plenty of nudity), a fast food drive-in accident (advancing the argument that there's better service inside), a workout gone awry, a mishap with a nail gun, and so on… Our heroine, Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and hero, Kevin (Ryan Merriman), figure out what Death is up to. And they do it without any help from a babbling Tony Todd, the Candyman who showed up in the other two Final Destination films. But can they stop him? Let me put it this way: do you think you'll stand much success against a tall guy in a black robe wielding a really sharp sword?

There's enough creativity in the manner by which characters are dispatched that the movie keeps the viewer's interest until late in the proceedings, when the deaths come more quickly, are set up with less elegance, and are routine. I enjoyed the opening 15 minutes, which introduce the characters with economy and generate suspense before and during the doomed roller coaster ride. This is not a movie to see the day before visiting a Six Flags amusement park. The crash sequence is well executed (emphasis on the last word). As the movie journeys into its plot-intensive phase, it becomes as dumb and improbable as Final Destination and Final Destination 2, but the killings keep coming to the very end.

No one from the other Final Destination movies makes an appearance here, although there are references to the events in both. Death is the only returning character, and He doesn't require an actor or a costume. The plucky Wendy is played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who does as competent a job as one could expect in these dire circumstances. In case she looks familiar, she played the vixen in Sky High. It never hurts to have a good-looking girl get most of the screen time. Her male cohort is Ryan Merriman, who has an extensive list of TV credits. He's a generic good looking young male actor whose talent limits are not tested by what the screenplay requires of him. No one else leaves much of an impression - they're bodies waiting to be bagged.

Final Destination 3 gripped me more than the earlier films. It is put together with a modicum of skill. More of an attempt is made at character development and identification. The dialogue doesn't read like a compilation of clichés and howlers (although no one is going to compare it to Shakespeare, or even Jacqueline Suzanne, for that matter). And there's legitimate tension during some of the pre-death scenes. Sure, there's a formula associated with how they develop, but the fun lies in deciphering the way in which the specifics play out. In addition, there's a minimal reliance on "Boo!" moments. That's a sign the director has confidence in his material. Compare Wong's work here to what he did in Final Destination, and it will become apparent that he has grown (although I won't claim to know how much - he still has Jet Li's horrible The One to answer for).

The recommendation for this film is as easy as they come. If you're a Final Destination fan, it's unlikely that #3 will disappoint. If you like horror/thrillers with plenty of cartoonish blood and gore, this will hit the spot. If you're looking for a portrait of Death akin to the one in The Seventh Seal, exit the theater as soon as you recognize what you've stumbled into. Based on the box office tallies of the first two pictures and the expected gross of this one, it's unlikely that this is the last Final Destination. Unless Death takes an extended vacation, we're likely to get another one of these in a couple of years. Time will tell if that one makes a run at the Top 10.

Final Destination 3 (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 1:25
U.S. Release Date: 2006-02-10
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1