Grade: C

Some years ago drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs (aka John Bloom) established the fundamental rule for successful sequels–make the same movie over again!–and the hands behind “Final Destination 2” have observed his injunction virtually to the letter. The cast may have changed (hardly surprising since so many of the principals were killed off in the initial installment, and this isn’t a ghost story), but in terms of premise, plot and construction, this is pretty much a replay of its 2000 predecessor.

In this case, though, that’s not a bad thing. The original “Final Destination” was, shall we say, a cut above the usual run of teen slasher movies. It was basically about young people dying untimely deaths, but like “A Nightmare on Elm Street” years earlier, it had a reasonably clever explanation for the raft of corpses, and it featured some amusingly complicated modes of demise. To be sure the picture ran out of gas toward the end of the journey, but for the most part it offered a better-than-average ride as far as this genre goes.

“FD1” concerned a bunch of kids who “escaped” death after one of them had a premonition that led them all to get off a doomed airplane at the last minute. But as it turned out, it’s not nice to fool the Grim Reaper, and an invisible force that might be called Fate or Destiny tracked down the survivors to balance the accounts through a succession of amusingly complicated “accidents.” This time around, the victims-to-be are a group of people, of various ages this time, who avoid a horrendous car crash as a result of the foreboding of a prescient girl named Kim (A.J. Cook). Before long, she and all the other “escapees” are being stalked and eliminated; the effort to save as many as possible also involves a stalwart cop (Michael Landes) who rescues Kim when Death first arrives to claim her and gets all the marked persons together to try to evade destruction together.

There are plenty of things wrong with “Final Destination 2.” The dialogue is wooden and the acting even more so, and David R. Ellis doesn’t show the acute eye or the skill of execution that James Wong brought to the previous picture. Some of the effects are very chintzy. The attempt to explicate what’s going on through the introduction of characters from the first installment (Ali Larter’s Clear Rivers and Tony Todd’s Mr. Bludworth) falls flat. An effort to construct a scenario connecting the events of the first picture with those in the current one is simply incomprehensible. (In fact, the picture fares worst when it tries to act like a true sequel rather than a retread.) But as in “FD1,” the various attack-and-destroy sequences are done with an extravagant complexity that turns them into virtual Rube Goldberg contraptions. Some of them work better than others (a couple are too reminiscent of bits from the first flick), but at least they show some imagination and panache, occasionally veering off where you don’t expect. And they often exhibit a tongue-in-cheek feel that lets the audience in on the joke: the one in a dentist’s office is especially good, appropriately enough.

So long as it sticks to its gorily over-the-top set-pieces (including a nifty last twist), “Final Destination 2” is a reasonably effective genre piece. Unfortunately, they’re continually interrupted by reams of desultory exposition, inane conversation and amateur-night acting–things that too often slow the picture down to a crawl. Moreover, there are two elements of the premise that continue to undermine the overall effectiveness. One’s the fact that the force doing all the killing is totally without a personality (something which Freddy Krueger, for instance, had in spades). The other is that there’s no “moral” cause for all the slaughter (even the “Friday the 13th” movies offered one, though it was admittedly terribly dumb)–simply put, the characters don’t do anything to “deserve” their fate. That fact makes it even more a simple slice-and-dice show than usual.

Still, “Final Destination 2” is superior to drek like the recent “Darkness Falls” or “They.” The inventiveness of the death scenes isn’t quite enough to compensate for the dullness of the rest, but it comes close.