**/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B+
starring Ali Larter, A.J. Cook, Michael Landes, Terrence 'T.C.' Carson
screenplay by J. Mackye Gruber & Eric Bress
directed by David Richard Ellis
by Walter Chaw Earning some marks for a gratuitous tit shot and a few graphic kills, the mystical gorefest Final Destination 2 is an unusually mordant excuse to knock off a few good-looking caricatures. Philosophically speaking, it develops its mythology with a series of rules so Byzantine that rather than spend a surplus of time trying to unravel what's going on, it's best just to settle comfortably into the realization that the ones we've marked for death are, in fact, marked by Death in the film. The most interesting thing about the picture, in fact, is that it is self-reflexive for genre fans, who've made it something of a matter of course to pick out the heroine and the meat bags from the rest of the cattle. In our way, we become the avatars of the Grim Reaper, laying our bony fingers on each inevitable victim in turn. The audience in a very direct way becomes that invisible cold wind that announces the arrival of doom--Final Destination 2 is almost interactive.
Kimberly (A.J. Cook) is a Nervous Nellie on a trip into the mountains with her best friend and their boyfriends. What seems to be a set-up for a "Spam in a cabin" spectacle à la The Evil Dead quickly devolves into a genuinely well-staged interstate pile-up fantasy that causes Kimberly to freak out, stall traffic, and thus save several otherwise irritated commuters. The premise of the first film, carried over into the second, involves a hero who has a premonition of calamity; and prevents a certain number of his friends from suffering from said calamity. Said friends are subsequently stalked by the invisible spectre of Death seeking to restore "his" plan. Accordingly, the survivors of the accident are killed-off one-by-one as our hero and her new beefcake boyfriend (Michael Landes) try to find a way to avert Death's plan.
That Death actually seems to be able to move things around (closing windows, unplugging respirators, etc) is the first of many unforgivable cheats in Final Destination 2; the gifting of Kimberly with some sort of hilarious second sight, another. The picture seems uncertain of how to carry off its Rube Goldberg death traps without the help of some physical agent, making destiny more malicious than inexorable. Genre savvy exhibits itself in clever homage to Poltergeist's clown and tree scenes and an elevator kill updated from Argento's Deep Red (there's even oblique reference to classic horror short story "Pigeons from Hell"), and a few establishing shots (particularly of the Stonybrook Mental Institution) land with a pleasing weight, but Final Destination 2 washes out in the end to be just another post-Scream meta-flick laden with smirky in-jokes and a constant reiteration of rules and worse, endless rehashings of the first film.
Still, there's a nice misanthropy about Final Destination 2--a kind of dedicated determinism that reminds a great deal of Kevin Kline's The Emperor's Club misfire (a film that would have been better as a horror movie, come to think of it): alea jacta est--"the die is cast." The thought that death is completely unavoidable in a monkey's paw sort of way renders the film sort of a time travel conceit (and, indeed, talk of "ripple effects" is engaged and dropped), an exercise in chaos theory not unlike Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder." (The karmic payment plan: buy now, pay forever.) All of which is explanation why the Final Destination series holds a certain fascination, though none of which forgives the film's lack of character development (without sympathetic characters, horror movies are academic or unintentionally funny) and cohesion. In a day when the genre is redolent with cowardly PG-13-leaning shockers, however, Final Destination 2 delivers some hilariously unlikely atrocities ("We have to warn them, they're going to be killed by pigeons!") in perverse detail. By itself, its nastiness almost merits the flick a minor recommendation--almost.
by Bill Chambers New Line's "infinifilm" DVD release of Final Destination 2, like the movie itself, puts most of its eggs in the Grand Guignol basket (insofar as it even provides a brief history of the Grand Guignol theatre in Paris), and the effect is curiously, maybe dangerously, desensitizing: By the time I saw the third or fourth death scene deconstructed in "how they did it" terms, the disgusting final product no longer had any effect on me.
1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and fullscreen presentations of the film occupy opposite sides of the platter; compared to the first Final Destination, colours and contrast are weak--this is a notably cheaper-looking production (all the money obviously clustered in the F/X department), but it's been transferred to the small screen as well as can be expected. I was slightly disappointed by the DTS 6.1-ES and Dolby Digital 5.1 EX soundtracks, both of which required a boost in volume to make an impact, though chapter 11, when one character is, er, wired (mwuhahahaha), features some clever split-surround gimmickry. As with all "infinifilm" titles, Final Destination 2 includes an interactive "fact track" (the average transmission repair costs $2200!) that links to additional video content, a lot of which can be found in a straightforward manner elsewhere on the disc, with the standard exception of interview nuggets and audition-tape excerpts. Also accompanying the film is an optional group commentary by director David Ellis, co-producer Craig Perry, and screenwriters Eric Bess and J. Mackeye, who say they went to great pains to establish a logic for the events that occur in Final Destination 2 and then humbly submit that not many critics agreed. It's a decent yakker with amiable participants that's also totally unnecessary in light of the thorough supplementary featurettes--and the fact that this is Final Destination 2.
Under Beyond the Movie, find two Michelle Palmierro mini-docs with a creative bent. In "The Terror Gauge" (14 mins.), mad scientist Dr. Victoria Ibric hooks up three test subjects (two guys, one girl) to an ECG and measures their brain waves as they watch the violent parts of Final Destination 2. I think I read somewhere about the kind of men used in this experiment: One of them is near tears after a while, which is, don't get me wrong, an utterly valid response--for a six-year-old girl. "Cheating Death: Beyond and Back" (18 mins.) is a dull piece on Near Death Experiences that redeems itself for presenting the phenomenon as one to neither be accepted nor laughed at, but requiring of further research. Lastly in this section, click on a tarot card to learn the circumstances of your demise; I will apparently croak from electrocution while pruning a tree. (More likely I'll be DVD'd to death.)All Access Pass offers a making-of and more. "Bits & Pieces: Bringing Death to Life" (30 mins.) is, until almost a third of the way in, very much a redux of "The Many Lives of Jason Voorhees" from New Line's Jason X disc, with AIN'T IT COOL NEWS' Drew McWeeny, Herschell "The Godfather of Gore" Gordon Lewis, and others chiming in on the evolution of the splatter genre between cheesy re-enactments of films the studio is too cheap to license for clips, all of this providing an entertaining but ultimately disconnected prelude for the eventual demystification of every drop of blood spilt in Final Destination 2. (The film wound up with 100 more F/X shots than planned.) A collection of five deleted scenes (in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1) with optional commentary by the returning Ellis, et al is worth mentioning because it treats Candyman fans to a few extra seconds of Tony Todd; music videos for The Blank Theory's "Middle of Nowhere" and The Sounds' "Seven Days a Week" plus trailers for Final Destination, Final Destination 2, and the incoherent-looking Highwaymen (starring Jim Caviezel, the good Christian actor who won't take his shirt off during love scenes but continually stars in movies centering around psychopaths) round out the DVD. Originally published: July 25, 2003.