Sunday, August 14, 2011
TEFB REVIEW: FINAL DESTINATION 5
Starring Nicholas D'Agosto, Emma Bell, Miles Fisher
I'm a Final Destination virgin. There, I said it. While I'm familiar enough with the franchise to know that it's really nothing more than a series of Rube Goldberg set-ups designed to showcase increasingly crowd-pleasing character deaths, I've never actually seen one of these films from beginning to end. It's not that I'm opposed to them, it's just that I imagined myself above such simple concepts. And, even though I'm a big fan of the Friday the 13th series, watching a film series that features vapid teens succumbing to their ends in various ways just seemed...oh f*** it. I got snobby on myself.
Anyway, turns out Final Destination 5 is the second time this summer I've found myself having a great time walking into a film with four prequels, none of which I have seen. Between this and Fast Five, I'm going to have to stop taking going to the movies so seriously. Because a movie like Final Destination 5 doesn't want you to take it seriously.
That's not to say it doesn't want you to take the experience of it seriously. Director Steven Quale co-directed Aliens of the Deep (the shot-in-3D-weird-effing-sea-creatures documentary), with THE James Cameron, and was second unit director on Avatar (directed by THE James Cameron), the most successful movie (3D or otherwise) of all time. The man is damn determined to make sure you recognize that making an audience squirm, gag, hoot, holler, and laugh at the same scene requires effort, and to do it in more than two dimensions requires the proper use of cameras designed to shoot in three. He's damned determined to make sure you recognize this but, the question is, does he, and, more importantly, does it work? The answer is: yes. And...yes.
FD5 begins as Sam Lawton (the blank faced thespian Nicholas D'Agosto) has a premonition while on a corporate team-building retreat for a local factory. The premonition involves a bridge collapsing into nothingness as the bus he and his friends were on follows suit. Armed with this sudden foresight, Sam proceeds to rescue a who's-who of stock horror characters from the bus - his innocent girlfriend (Emma Bell), the sexy narcissist (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood), the Black Guy (Arlen Escarpeta), the big-boned perv (P.J. Byrne), his best friend (Miles Fisher), his best friend's girl (Ellen Wrote), and the "obviously influenced by The Office" boss (David Koechner, in a very funny but short-shafted role).
For the most part, 5nal Destination couldn't care less about its characters. At least at first. Quale does an admirable job of setting up the "sure to die" cursory cast - you know at least the fat guy and vixen are going to get it soon in the film, simply because they're the worst people in the world - and spends a little bit of time with Sam the Hero and his Princess - the former of who is a part-time chef with a chance at an apprenticeship at a restaurant in Paris, the latter of who is the love of his life, and someone he wants to move to The City of Love With. It's all perfunctory, and generally not very interesting. Then the set pieces happen.
Beginning with the elaborate bridge collapse (which, by the way, the film never tops), Final Destination 5 stages some truly impressive exercises in the macabre. Planning on getting LASIK surgery? Consult your optometrist before this movie. Gymnast? Skip FD5. Acupuncture curious? Stick with massages from your inexperienced girlfriend. Quale excels at creating some truly uncomfortable sequences. A scene where a gymnast dances her feet around an unnoticed pointy-side-up screw on a balance beam is a nicely edited few minutes of cringe-inducing tension, which climaxes in the film's grisliest death. The pattern is repeated a few times throughout the film, and in this way FD5 is no different than your typical Halloween-esque slasher film. Instead of waiting for the masked killer to jump out of the shadows to give someone a machete facial, we're watching to see how the machinations of the invisible hand of death result in the same outcome.
Since death is not seen in the film (but certainly felt), the screenwriters throw a little twist into the proceedings. After all, a series of complicated and gruesome set-pieces is fun, but not a film. In Final Destination 5, it turns our fatally doomed characters can exchange their lives for others. If they kill another person, giving death their debt, they're allowed to live. This leads to a moral quandary explored by the screenwriters with all the depth of a kiddie pool, but it's an interesting change of pace nonetheless, especially when actor Miles Fisher - who looks like Tom Cruise's body grew all the way up to nose, then the top half of his face decided to become Jason Schwartzman - gets to stretch his acting range from A to B. Fisher's not a good actor (none of these people really are, actually), but he attempts some scenery chewing towards the end of the film, which is surprisingly fun to watch.
Overall, Final Destination 5 is a harmless, but well-crafted fright-fest that will succeed with late-night audiences. If the previous entries are this much fun to watch, I may just go from Final Destination virgin to Final Destination slut faster than I can take my pants off.