Monday, June 17, 2013

Penultimate Destination

Year: 2009
Director: David R. Ellis
Cast: Bobby Campo, Nick Zano, Krista Allen
Run Time: 1 hour 22 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

As part of a continuing sibling bonding series with my super cool sister, late last night we watched the fourth entry in what is easily the most high concept and low class slasher franchise there is.

This is a film that is so hard up for audience that it has to pretend that it's something else. "The" Final Destination. I've said it before and I'll say it again: your franchise has really gone down the tubes when you stop numbering them.

In this case however, the title (accidentally) conveys additional meaning about the nature of the film. This film is so poorly made and so divorced from the rest of the series that it acts as somewhat of a palate cleanser preparing one for the rigors of Final Destination 5 (the only FD movie to receive a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes).

Director David R. Ellis returns to helm his second entry in the series (after Final Destination 2, which was actually quite good), and whatever creative spark he once had has obviously long been stamped out. The director's workmanlike attitude behind the camera betrays his years of experience as a stuntman.

The rest of the movie doesn't feel much better. The dialogue sounds more like a spec script that the writers pumped full of cliches to frame the story thinking "we'll fill that in with actual human-sounding dialogue later" and then eventually having it slip their minds. The gore wouldn't feel out of place in a SyFy original movie, and the actors' characterizations are as inert as their inevitably lifeless corpses.

I doubt that I can find room in my heart to call this a "redeeming quality," but there's one part where the filmmakers didn't skimp. The Final Destination gets a lot of mileage out of being unashamedly devoted to showing naked flesh. Especially common is shirtless men, which is rather unusual for a slasher movie (which these films like to pretend they aren't but it's an inescapable part of their DNA).

There seems to be little regard paid to the actual demographics of the film (teen boys who want to see blood and guts and boobs and butts). Although there is a lengthy topless sex scene full of mammaries bouncing all over the place, the film would much rather lovingly stroke the sculpted abs of its male characters, even while they're in the process of getting their insides sucked out by a pool filter.

Side note: Watching this movie in 2010 is 100% responsible for my love of baseball shirts.

Just to drive the point in (and amuse myself), I'm going to scatter shirtless shots throughout the rest of this article to *ahem* exemplify how they are utilized in the film.

Fun Fact: This film was the first Final Destination film to actually be shot in the US (the rest were filmed in Canada). Perhaps this is why the rest of the film feels so overwhelmingly low budget. I've already mentioned the embarrassing gore effects, which are clearly some sort of Walmart brand CGI, but there's also the matter of casting.

Most FD films have some at least marginally famous actor hiding in the wings: An Ali Larter, a Seann William Scott, a Tony Todd. Heck, Devon Sawa was famous for like 45 seconds in the 90's. This movie features not a single person you've seen in any other film in your life, I guarantee it. In that way, it is reminiscent of some of the worst of the worst slasher movies of the 80's, full of nameless actors buried away by time. However, this is 2009. A brief moment of silence for the fizzling careers of these poor young men and women.

Oh no, it seems like I've forgotten to recap the plot at all. Let me rectify that: Race track. Moving on.

Mmmmm, race track.

I've been pretty harsh on this film, but there is some charm buried underneath the crust of bird droppings and dried blood. One scene in particular stands out that plays with our expectations based on years of watching these films. A woman in a beauty parlor is surrounded by a truly astounding array of broken machinery, slippery puddles, shoddy wiring, and the like. It seems like death is setting up an absurdly complex Rube Goldberg death trap, but after a few false alarms, the death is actually quite simple and abrupt. This isn't exactly groundbreaking, but it is the one time that the film feels playful and alive.

Another fun thing about the movie is that you can play the Heavyhanded Symbolism Game. I prefer the point-and-shout method, but it can be made into a drinking game if one is so inclined. Look for references to:
  • The number 180 (the flight number from the original movie)
  • McKinley (the high school/town from FD3)
  • Clear Rivers (Ali Larter's character from the first two films)
  • Lucky charms being instrumental in death
  • Any reference to death, the devil, or fate (Destiny Towing, Salon Dante, race car 666, the coffee shop "Death by Caffeine.")
This is where the movie feels most at home in its franchise, as all these movies are chock full of foreshadowing and callbacks, kind of like an episode of Arrested Development except with less wit and more intestines.

Unfortunately, this film is so eager to hearken back to the old days that it forgets about the present. Side characters are lovingly given one character trait and no name (credits titles include "Mechanic," "Racist," "Racist's Wife," and, my personal favorite, "MILF."), and the film is egregiously short. In an already truncated 82 minute running time, a good six minutes of that are dedicated to the credits.

It's a surprise that a sequel ever got made for this heap of garbage, but if these are the dues we must pay to get a Final Destination film that 61% of critics actually liked, I will gladly pay them.

Body Count: 11 (The most of any film in the series, but it feels like much much less)
TL;DR: The film is cheap, tawdry, and goreless. It also lacks a sense of fun and acts more like a moving walkway by which you can access the next film in the franchise.
Rating: 4/10
Should I spend money on this DVD? There is a movie pack available of the first four FD films, which is totally worth it. But there is a special circle of Hell designated for individuals who bought this DVD standalone.
Word Count: 1101

Reviews In This Series
The Final Destination (Ellis, 2009)
Final Destination 5 (Quale, 2011)

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