This is supposedly the final “Final Destination,” but that’s a song we’ve heard before. The fourth installment of the decade-old franchise also turns out to be a movie we’ve seen before, a chain of gruesome death scenes supposedly connected to the victims’ untimely escape from a catastrophe and the need to restore some sort of universal balance by killing them all off in the order they would have perished in the disaster. The level of invention in terms of fashioning baroque modes of demise has been falling off throughout the series, and here it reaches a new low. When a falling bathtub takes out one character and a rock thrown up by a lawnmower another, you know things have come to a bad pass. Even the addition of 3D to the mix has only modest effect: the first time you see bits of machinery or gobs of bloody body parts speeding toward your face, some discomfort is assured, but it’s a device that pales on repetition. Tedium soon sets in.
In the first “Destination,” the disaster the doomed avoided was an air crash; in the second, it was a chain-reaction roadway accident; in the third, a roller-coaster mishap. This time around, the characters escape being mowed down in a massive pile-up at a stock-car racetrack thanks to the premonition of Nick (Bobby Campo). But they can’t elude the fickle finger of fate, or the determination of the Grim Reaper if you prefer, shuffling off this mortal coil courtesy of such devices as a swimming pool pump gone berserk, a car wash run amuck, that wayward bathtub, and an exploding theatre showing, of course, a 3D movie (heh, heh). Some of the Rube Goldberg contraptions work and others fail, but the attempts keep coming.
It goes pretty much without saying that in a movie that’s all about grisly death scenes and near-escapes, there’s not much room for such narrative niceties as logic or characterization. One’s introduced merely to stock figures whose only purpose is to serve as fodder for the Reaper’s conspicuously dull blade, which sometimes finds its mark but sometimes needs a second or third chance (red herrings abound, in terms of actual death scenes, because Nick keeps having premonitions). Primary among them is Campo’s Nick, a callow sort of fellow who, along with obligatory girlfriend Lori (Shantel VanSanten) tries to save the lives of other targeted escapees by, among other things, doing Google searches on “visions” and rushing around in futile hope of averting further disasters. Among the cardboard bozos who get their deserts—just or not you can decide—are their best friends, garrulous material girl Janet (Haley Webb) and loathsome Lothario Hunt (Nick Zano). But there are others who start out as strangers: loudmouth bigot Carter (Justin Welborn), a mechanic (Andrew Fiscella) and soccer mom Samantha (Krista Allen), whose demise has so many “almost-got-her”s that they’re beyond counting. Mykelti Williamson also appears, though one wonders why, as a guilt-ridden, alcoholic security man who’s on death’s little list too. He actually tries to invest the character with a little depth and even some humor, to no avail.
Apart from him, the acting is strictly of amateur-theatre quality, and the ineptitude is actually accentuated by the 3D process that shoves the performers into our faces. But one doubts that even thespians of Tandy and Cronyn caliber could have breathed much life into the alternately tedious and ridiculous lines provided them by Eric Bress, who also penned the second picture in the franchise and was out of ideas even then. And the direction by David R. Ellis, also a veteran of “Destination 2” who afterward went on to the Internet-smash, boxoffice-bomb “Snakes on a Plane,” seems more the workmanlike effort of a traffic cop than a real moviemaker. He moves the expository scenes along too phlegmatically, speeding up when the opportunity presents itself for another mediocre-CGI action sequence. The technical aspects of the picture are what you’d expect from this sort of thing; remember what “My Bloody Valentine 3D” looked like, with lots of protruding objects sticking out into the audience? More of the same here. You do have to feel a bit of compassion for cinematographer Glen MacPherson, though; the effort to choreograph everything for maximum in-your-face effect must be wearying.
The one good thing about “The Final Destination” is that at least it lacks a knife or chainsaw-wielding villain. Here it’s all about things “accidentally” moving around to cause mishaps, and that’s at least less ugly. But it doesn’t make for a very pleasurable picture. Warner Bros. is demanding a surcharge of viewers for the privilege of seeing the movie in 3D. Actually the company should be paying them for sitting through it at all.