Sunday, April 17, 2016

Review: Final Destination 2 (2003)

Final Destination 2 (2003)

Rated R for strong violent/gruesome accidents, language, drug content and some nudity

Score: 3 out of 5

Final Destination 2 is just about on par with the first film, better in some areas but worse in others. On one hand, the acting isn't as good outside the few returning characters, with the leads in particular being fairly dull, and there's less focus on tension than before. On the other hand, the creativity of the kills has been turned up, along with the associated gore effects, and for the most part the writing is still there to match, putting some interesting twists on the setup and lore that expand on the first film rather than just repeat it. All told, this is a worthy follow-up that any fan of violent horror movies will probably enjoy.

The film takes place a year after the original, with a college girl in suburban New York named Kimberly Corman planning on heading down to Daytona Beach with her friends. While getting on the highway, however, Kimberly has a premonition of a massive pileup killing them and several other people on the road, one that felt way too real to dismiss, causing her to block the on-ramp with her SUV in order to save herself, her friends, and the people behind her in traffic. She succeeds, but almost immediately, the people she saved start dropping like flies, starting with the friends she was traveling with when a freak occurrence causes them to get caught in the big wreck anyway. Kimberly and Thomas Burke, a highway patrol officer who she had saved by blocking the road (and who returned the favor just before her SUV got creamed by a dump truck), seek to find a way to break the cycle of mysterious deaths upon realizing how similar it is to the aftermath of the Flight 180 crash from the previous film, which has become something of an urban legend in paranormal circles, and so they turn to Clear Rivers (Ali Larter), the last survivor from the group that got off that plane, who's now voluntarily living in a mental hospital out of fear for her safety.

For better or worse, this film mostly drops the tension of the previous one, at least in the sense of letting the viewer wonder whether or not this or that character is going to die. Instead, the tension is derived mainly from the insanely complicated, Rube Goldberg-style setups for each trap. It's obvious every time somebody's going to die, and less about whether or not they're gonna make it as it is about what seemingly innocuous item is going to land the killing blow on this poor sucker, which would become the formula for every subsequent film. The series had already figured out by this point that anybody watching it is out for blood, and it is nothing if not populist. The opening scene is one of the most amazing car wreck sequences in any movie, and it keeps the energy going afterwards with people getting skewered through the head, flattened, decapitated, burned, sliced to pieces, and blown right the fuck up. And the special effects always pull through. It's a big, bloody mess, this movie, a rough approximation of Michael Bay at his best making a violent splatter film, taking on more of a black comedy tone as it embraces the higher body count with gusto. It certainly does its job in making the viewer paranoid about anything around them potentially being the instrument of their death.

The interesting divergences it takes from the original's setup also help it stand out from it, most notably how all the victims are dying in reverse order. The explanation given for why this is happening is that the deaths of the characters in the first film had inadvertently saved all these characters' lives beforehand for various reasons, and Death was now scrambling to tie up loose ends, working backwards from its "list". It's pretty puzzling how it works, but it served to provide a nice moment of development for many of the characters as they explain their interactions with the last movie's victims. Overall, this is a film whose large supporting cast actually had a bit more to do than just get splattered, with my favorites probably being Eugene and Nora for both the actors' performances and their reactions to learning that they're gonna die soon. Oh, and the return of Tony Todd's creepy undertaker Bludworth is also a nice touch. The dude's easily the best actor in this film, and again, even with just one scene, he brings a ton of energy.

Sadly, the same can't be said for the lead actors. A. J. Cook is a noticeable step down from the first film's heroine Ali Larter, a fact that becomes painfully noticeable when the two of them appear on screen together. Larter really only displays one mode of acting here, which is "intense and kinda bitchy", but she does it well and at least feels like she's alive, while the same can't be said of Cook, who often looks lost in her scenes. The same is true of Michael Landes as Thomas, who's probably even more wooden; whereas Cook at least tries to emote, Landes' performance is flat for most of the film. Oddly, it was the supporting cast/cannon fodder who gave the best performances. None of them were great, but all of them ranged from serviceable to genuinely good, which is more than can be said for Cook and Landes. The exact mechanisms of Death's design can also get confusing if you're not paying close attention, and given the sort of movie this is, most people probably won't be. A major twist hinges on one character's possible death turning out to be a red herring, and thinking about it, I noticed some holes both there and at other points in the movie where certain things weren't particularly well-explained.

The Bottom Line:

Another high 3 out of 5, even if it works on a somewhat different level from the first film. It keeps up a solid standard of quality, with a few moments that go above and beyond the call of duty making up for the parts that don't measure up. Another really good entry in the series.

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