In a franchise that’s closing in on “Saw” for longevity, this movie proves that at least in Hollywood, no “Destination” is truly final, however much the weary traveler might wish it so. After all, its immediate predecessor was simply titled “The Final Destination” and termed the last chapter of the saga. But since it was a modest financial success, wiser—or at least more practical—studio heads have prevailed.
The only thing new about this installment in the series, about those who escape catastrophe—in this instance, a bridge collapse (previous installments had involved an airline crash, a multiple-car pileup, a roller-coaster accident, and a mash-up at a stock-car race), only to be picked off by the “cheated” Grim Reaper in inventive ways—is that the hapless survivors are informed—by returning coroner Tony Todd—that they can save themselves by killing others in their place. (The fact that it’s in 3-D isn’t anything special, given that its immediate predecessor used the process, too.)
But the addition does make for a moral quandary for the targeted characters. Will they become murderers to avoid being gruesomely killed themselves? Will the survival instinct overcome their moral scruples—if they have any?
And that, along with some nifty special effects, is enough to raise this chapter above its predecessors—though that’s not saying all that much. Certainly the initial bridge sequence is a tour-de-force, with members of the cast meeting their demises in extravagantly gruesome fashion. And the succeeding death scenes are fairly clever, not so much in the end result (too many close-up shots of crumpled bodies and impaled heads to induce nervous laughter) as in the tension that director Steven Quale ratchets up as the mechanisms of death are methodically observed. The picture even manages not one but two twists at the very end to send fans away surprised.
Unfortunately, the movie’s hobbled by some serious weaknesses. One is the need to wow the crowd with 3D effects. The opening credits, featuring loads of stuff streaking toward the audience, seems to go on forever, and periodically throughout—to the very last shot—the makers pander to the technology.
Another is the bland characters. The prospective victims in flicks like this are always stick figures, but this is an especially colorless group, apart from rubber-faced David Koechner as Dennis, the corporate honcho leading a busload of his underlings to a company retreat. He escapes along with seven others, the only one of whom that stands out being Isaac (effectively smarmy P.J. Byrne); and he’s notable only for his obnoxiousness (a would-be ladies’ man, he’s always on the make). Then there are hard-driving Peter (Tom Cruise-y Miles Fisher) and his girlfriend Candice (chirpy Ellen Wroe), a gymnist; kooky Olivia (bug-eyed Jacqueline MacInnes Wood); and serious factory administrator Nathan (dully accommodating Arlen Escarpeta). Most important, though, are the two leads, Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto) and Molly (Emma Bell), a couple whose commitment to one another is tested by his wanting to go to Paris for a culinary apprenticeship. They’re supposed to be the characters we care about the most, but they’re so dully written and anemically played that it’d hard to muster much concern for their fate. Some class is added to the proceedings by creepy, satin-voiced Todd, who can do this role in his sleep by now, and Courtney B. Vance as the federal agent weirded out by all the deaths among the survivors.
Still, characterization is secondary to technical execution in a movie like this, and in that respect “Final Destination 5” scores over its four predecessors. The widescreen cinematography (Brian Pearson), production design (David Sandefur) and art direction (Sandi Tanaka) are above the norm for pictures like this, Eric Sears’s editing is crisp, and Brian Tyler’s score punches up the action scenes. But it’s the effects that stand out. They’re the real selling-point here, and mostly they work.
So if you’re interested in this sort of thing, “Final Destination 5” scores miles ahead of torture-porn trash like the “Saw” pictures and even improves on its predecessors in cleverness and suspense. Of course it’s still what it is, and that’s not much.