**/**** Image A- Sound A Extras C-
starring Nicholas D'Agosto, Emma Bell, Miles Fisher, David Koechner
screenplay by Eric Heisserer
directed by Steven Quale
by Angelo Muredda "Five! Five different systems had to fail for this to happen." So shouts a slumming Courtney B. Vance as a suspicious cop on the scene of only the second or third most elaborate death in the cynically titled Final Destination 5. Who can blame him? Five, after all, is an improbably large number. Here we are, though--as many entries into a series that's sure to rival even Final Fantasy's swollen ranks once the last lighter fluid-doused fan blade hits the last neck.
As fifth movies go, this one's not so bad. It boasts just enough of the features that stalwarts come for--including the opening ornately choreographed premonition of doom and, my favourite, the cryptic appearance by a zombified Tony Todd--to pass muster, and it moves at a reasonable pace. There's a certain luxury that comes with passing the trilogy mark and sliding into the warm obscurity of the plus fours, and Final Destination 5 finds its groove there up to a point: why dare to be good when you can comfortably deliver a grotesque procession of mannequins slamming into makeshift spears? Like a safe marriage grown stale, however, one senses that the salad days--anaemic as they might have been--are long gone. While these movies were never the great hope of FANGORIA subscribers, earlier instalments at least carried a corporeal weight that made you cringe out of empathy and concern for your own neck, or eye, or whatever, when Death came calling. Here, the red stuff runs to Kool-Aid pink and sprays out as if from an aggressively shaken soda can. Worse still, as gross as botched laser eye surgery sounds in the abstract, it's not a particularly scary way to go, and it's characteristic of the film's preference for clever scenarios over strong payoffs and real tension.
These movies live and die, so to speak, on the strength of their collection of production designers and art and set directors, so give it up for David Sandefur, Sandi Tanaka, and Melissa Olson, respectively. They do a pretty good job of cramming spaces with sharp prongs and untethered electronic devices you wouldn't feel safe squatting near in an earthquake. There's a neat bit in a restaurant kitchen where our spooked protagonist, paper-company stooge by-day and amateur chef by-night Sam (Nicholas D'Agosto), becomes fearful of the once mundane/now murderous-seeming glinting blades and bubbling pots that surround him. It's a nice tip of the hat to the primal anxiety at the heart of the Final Destination ethos, which is on roughly the same horror wavelength as shows like "1000 Ways to Die". That opening premonition, this time set on a bridge that collapses as a result of well over five failed systems, is also decent, and boasts some surprisingly subtle 3-D effects, at least until the instruments of impalement start flying.
Alas, something is missing. The series has always coated its bald disdain for human flesh in half-baked utopian pronouncements about buying extra time and starting over after graduation, sometimes to absorbing effect--albeit a guilty kind of absorption. It's coasted on the sincerity of likeable faces like Ali Larter and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and on its audience's touching generosity towards them; they've been traumatized by the premonition, we're meant to think and often do--isn't that enough? This time, we're left with only D'Agostino's crazy-eyed Ratatouille-aspiring chef apprentice and other dullards at the paper company, most notably Peter, played by Miles Fisher as someone who can't decide whether he'd rather do Christian Bale or Tom Cruise impressions at parties. This creates a vortex of human interest screenwriter Eric Heisserer and director Steven Quale, one of James Cameron's protégés, attempt to fill by cramming in sentimental blather about cross-continental relationships and mourning boyfriends, accompanied by Brian Tyler's mawkish score, which shamelessly lifts its marimbas right out of American Beauty. The perversely funny low point of all this hand-wringing is Fisher's hospital eulogy to his fallen comrade: "She was doing great!" Yes: right up until she wasn't. It's a fundamentally dishonest emotional beat, especially since the departed has met her end in a grisly comic set-piece that's surely a knowing wink to a "South Park" episode that featured poor Butters haunted by the memory of a tap-dance recital gone wrong.
Yet people don't go to these things for the emoting. When it gets over its melodramatic hang-ups, Final Destination 5 becomes the drolly inefficient but unstoppable Rube Goldberg machine it's designed to be. As Steve Jobs was prone to saying of his own magical devices, when it's good, it just works. Pity the cogs sliding through the apparatus aren't more compelling. Originally published: August 12, 2011.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Shot in high-definition 3D using Arri's justly-praised Alexa camera, Final Destination 5 docks on Blu-ray in a spiffy 2.40:1, 1080p transfer. (Note that this review refers to the 2D release.) While the CG blood is more dreadfully obvious than just plain dreadful, the image is credibly filmic, if prone to gleaming, and weathers a high volume of compositing without becoming digital soup. Black is deep but translucent, while the steely palette percolates with vivid colours. The accompanying 5.1 DTS-HD MA track offers a lustrous presentation of a forceful and dynamic mix, with all the Rube Goldberg fuckery exploiting the discrete soundstage to the fullest. I don't really remember the previous movies having this kind of sonic heft at home, although the sound designers seem to take a smoke break between set-pieces. This is a sparsely-supplemented platter, beginning with "Final Destination 5: Circle of Death" (6 mins., HD) and practically ending there, too, as the "Alternate Death Scenes" (16 mins., HD)--basically a kill compilation in poor-quality video, with so-minor-as-to-be-indistinguishable variations in the gore quotient--and HiDef "Visual Effects of Death" segments--before-and-after splitscreen comparisons of the Collapsing Bridge and Airplane Crash sequences--aren't worth a damn. Discussing Final Destination 5's twist ending immediately and brazenly, the aforementioned featurette is not for the spoiler-sensitive. Poor Jacqueline MacInnes Wood had her eyelids pried open by a speculum multiple times; I guess some things you still can't fake. A combination DVD/Digital Copy fills. Originally published: December 31, 2011.