THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Minor Spoiler Alert: This review contains general information that reveals minor details about how the characters in the film die. If you wish to preserve the surprise, proceed with caution.

The original Final Destination came as a pleasant surprise to me. The 2000 horror film had more chills than I expected, yet they were underlined by a genuine philosophical (albeit adolescent) consideration of death. The inevitable sequel - Final Destination 2 - somehow got past me, and I didnít even know there was going to be a Final Destination 3 until trailer popped up in front of another movie recently. A lot of times, a series will start to fizzle out by the third entry. Thatís somewhat true here, although thereís admittedly some life left (no pun intended) in this new installment.

The premise of the FD pictures is simple. A group of teenagers prepares for some sort of journey. In the original, it was a cross continental flight; this time, itís a ride on a humongous roller coaster. Just prior to departure, one of them has a premonition about how they will all die tragically. The seer this go-round is Wendy Christensen (Sky Highís Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who has a vivid hallucination about the coaster leaking hydraulic fluid, jumping the track, and plunging from its highest point after briefly hanging in mid-air as it goes around one of the loop-de-loops.

When she snaps back to reality, Wendy has a panic attack and demands to be let off the ride. She causes enough commotion to get herself and a few of her classmates thrown out. However, her boyfriend Jason isnít one of the lucky ones to get off. He and the other remaining riders are killed when the coaster does exactly what Wendy predicted.

Like the characters in the first two installments, Wendy and the others have cheated death. Therefore, death (or should I say, Death) comes to get them, creating elaborate Rube Goldberg blueprints of torture. Death also has its rules: it kills people in the order that they would have died anyway, and a potential victim can be skipped if someone intervenes to save them. By this token, Wendy and her seatmate Kevin (Ryan Merriman) attempt to figure out who will die next and how by looking for clues in digital photos taken on the evening in question.

It goes without saying that the creative deaths are a big part of the fun (if you can call it that) to fans. If you think of them logically, theyíre silly, yet on another level there is a legitimate sense of dread. For example, two of the characters are cooked alive inside of tanning beds. The series of events that causes them to be trapped inside the machines is ludicrous, but the image of these young women burning and blistering is undeniably eerie. Despite the best efforts of Wendy and Kevin, others die via gym equipment, runaway truck, and a nail gun. (That one is particularly gruesome.) The suspense comes in the way director James Wong teases us. We know that something is going to happen, and we see the pieces being put in place, but we arenít sure exactly when the fatal blow will be delivered.

Teenagers, as we all know, often think they are indestructible. Part of the appeal of the Final Destination series is that it challenges this very notion. It puts a terrifying thought into the heads of its primary teen audience: What if some horrific freak accident claimed your life before you even had a chance to graduate from high school? Most horror movies Ė from the Friday the 13th series all the way up to the Saw flicks Ė treat death as a lark. They donít deal with the repercussions of it. By contrast, the Final Destination films at least make a pretense of taking the subject seriously. This one is no different. Wendy and Kevin experience survivorís guilt, then try to prevent more people from dying prematurely.

You can probably tell that I had someÖfondness isnít the wordÖrespect for FD3. This is part of an interesting horror series that tries to be more creative than most modern horror flicks. That said, there are some definite signs of wear-and-tear that prevent this third installment from equaling the original. In an effort to go bigger, the screenplay strains to find unusual ways to kill the characters. What I liked about the original was that the deaths felt like a supernatural hand was guiding them, yet they at least maintained a semblance of being possible. This time you can feel the filmmakers adhering to the ďmore bang for the buckĒ approach, which I feel robs the movie of its creepiest quality: the impression of lurking death sneaking up on the characters.

The longer it goes on, the more over-the-top it becomes too. I mean, itís over the top to begin with, but it eventually goes further than it needs to. The scene of the roller coaster going haywire is effectively frightful, as is the tanning bed sequence, but by the time someone is flattened by a falling crane, I was not feeing the chills to quite the same degree. (Said character does die while giving someone the finger, which is a nice macabre touch, though. And what is this if not the ultimate black comedy anyway?) Itís also worth noting that Final Destination 3 features a tasteless reference to the World Trade Center disaster that has no place here. Itís shocking Ė and kind of offensive - that the movie would use the tragedy as an example of Deathís modus operandi; I wish this moment had been excised from the final cut.

Bottom line: this is a decent, if unremarkable, sequel. Fans of the series wonít be terribly disappointed, but if thereís a Final Destination 4, I hope they have the sense to scale things back just a little bit. Comparing FD3 to the original proves that a modicum of restraint is most effective.

( 1/2 out of four)

Final Destination 3 is rated R for strong horror violence/gore, language and some nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.

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