Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cinema 2006: Fatal action won't die

"Final Destination 3" from 2006 was made with cult film aspirations but only TV production values. Still as the film unspools it manages to gather a winning rhythm. But fans of Scythe-Shoulderer schlock will be disappointed that some of the scenes building up to destruction and death are oddly without excruciation, not to mention too complicated even for Rube Goldberg.

“FD3” opens as Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) celebrates with members of her graduating high school class at an amusement park. Sitting in a roller coaster waiting for the ride to begin, she has an intense vision of disaster, causing her to panic. She takes herself off the ride before it starts, and is led away -- along with some friends who disembarked to calm her -- by an uncaring adult who accuses her of being on drugs. Not so, mister! Wendy’s vision soon turns real.

The seven grads who escape "roller coaster death" thanks to Wendy's clairvoyance are living on borrowed time. Wendy discovers they are scheduled to die in the order they originally boarded the ill-fated ride, as if Death were methodically rectifying the last-second screw-up caused by Wendy’s vision. Photos from the night at the amusement park hold clues to the "do-over" deaths of the kids who got away. Our mission, should we decide to watch this movie, is to try to figure out the means Death will use to put its books in order, and exactly when the make-up mortality will take place.

On one level, Wendy spends the rest of the film trying to save her friends. On another level she is trying to recapture a happier past by solving the mystery that left her life a psychotic ruin. Wendy is dismissed by the police like some pestering pulp fiction private eye. She must rely on her deductive reasoning to attempt to divine the future, something she had been able to intuit at the amusement park.

Wendy is a brooding heroine. She graduated high school only to be thrown violently into that adult world from which her storybook namesake fled on the coattails of Peter Pan. She begins to care more about solving the mystery than the lives it claims. Eventually she is consumed by her own impending doom, which forces out all other considerations.

Director James Wong actually succeeds in making it fun to tag along with Wendy as she tries to save her friends and herself. Along the way, two shallow girls pursuing the consumer ideal of beauty suffer a gruesome end. The demise of these "hotties" is not without its irony. We also see the quick-tempered football star, played by Texas Battle, strengthening every muscle but the one between his ears. Could this omission become a vulnerability? Disturbed rebel Ian spouts science, but believes in nothing. And there is no avoiding Frankie (Sam Easton), a legend in his own groin, and too full of himself to attract any fans, except perhaps one.

There is plenty of gore and splatter, but surprisingly little philosophizing about the meaning of life. Perhaps that's the key to the success of “Final Destination 3.”

Oddly, some dialog in the script, penned by Wong with experienced TV screenwriter Glen Morgan, misrepresents colloquial American English. For instance, when Wendy hangs back during a funeral, preferring to stand apart from the gathered mourners, fellow survivor Kevin (Ryan Merriman) asks her why she is in the "nose-bleeds." He uses it as a synonym for “far away,” but the term derives its meaning from the height of a stadium's cheap seats. At the same funeral, Easton’s tasty character claims he regrets having treated women as "fun bags," misusing a slang that first appeared in print 46 years ago (in Playboy, where else).

While the film provides laughs for the depraved, it also educates. We learn there are deadly hazards all around us, from not so fast food drive-thrus to litterbugs on a sugar high. "FD 3" isn't so much a real movie as a kind of running visual gag in the form of a movie. As such it holds our interest, gets us worrying 'bout Wendy and, despite a poorly staged climax, is actually kind of fun.

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