Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ali Larter, A.J. Cook, Michael Landes, Tony Todd
Written by: Eric Bress, J. Mackye Gruber, Jeffrey Reddick
Directed by: David Richard Ellis
MPAA Rating: R for strong violent/gruesome accidents, language, drug content and some nudity
Running Time: 91
Date: 01/30/2003

Final Destination 2 (2003)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Death Watch

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In a standard slasher film, the audience pretty much knows when someone's going to be killed. The killer more or less gives it away when he raises the machete over his head or revs up his chain saw.

But the folks behind Final Destination 2 (and 2000's original Final Destination) know about building suspense. In these movies, there is a chain reaction of standard coincidences and little terrors before the characters die. We have no idea how long the chain will go on or where it will turn before its ultimate, grisly conclusion.

The plot, for those who don't know -- or don't remember -- has to do with fatal disasters. One young person has a clear vision of a disaster about to happen and is given a chance to avoid said disaster.

In this case, it's a multi-car pileup on the freeway. Kimberly Corman (A.J. Cook) manages to save herself and several others by not getting on the freeway, though she can't do the same for three friends and her dad's car, which gets clipped by an out-of-control 18-wheeler.

But in buying herself and the others some time, she's also signed their death warrants. Each person who would have died in the accident has to face certain death, in another form.

So Kimberly contacts the sole survivor of the last movie, Clear Rivers (Ali Larter -- not to be confused with Doritos girl Ali Landry) who resides in a padded room and is constantly afraid of death. Clear takes Kimberly and a helpful cop, Officer Thomas Burke (Michael Landes), to the spooky mortician (Tony Todd) who told them about people on a "death's list" in the first film.

It's great that the film rarely pulls the supernatural card. The deaths mostly occur as a result of honest-to-goodness accidents that just get worse and worse.

Case in point: The first victim is a lucky lotto winner who arrives home with a new computer and a shiny gold watch. He pops some frozen fish sticks into a frying pan and slips a carton of leftover Chinese food into the microwave. Unfortunately, one of the magnets from the fridge has fallen into the box, which sets the microwave sparking.

In the meantime, he drops a new ring down the garbage disposal, and when he goes to retrieve it, his and, and new watch, get wedged in the blade. Then the fish sticks catch fire and spill onto the floor.

The audience's collective mind is racing: How will he die? A hand chopped off by the disposal? Burned in the fire? No ... you really have to pay attention. Throwaway details -- things you probably overlooked -- come back and get him (and you) in the end.

Unfortunately, Final Destination 2 isn't good enough to continue playing with these good ideas. It cooks up nonsense about how Death's List can be interrupted if a new life comes into the mix; the way this plot line pans out makes little sense.

The filmmakers also can't help bringing in moments of supernatural death, suggesting that some Evil Force is at work rather than just mean coincidence.

Still, as grisly as the movie is, you have to admire its twisted invention and the way it plays the audience like a piano. Like Hitchcock, it shows us everything we need to know but makes us choose; we work for the suspense.

In one scene, a character lights a cigarette while a gasoline leak ripples through a culvert pipe across an open field. We wait for the explosion, but Final Destination 2 is sneakier. It fools us, but we laugh through our shock.

While the first film betrayed itself with a ludicrous ending that peeved most horror movie fans, Final Destination 2 comes up with a much better, more twisted ending that should right that wrong. Still, shouldn't the filmmakers have come up with another title? If the first "destination" was "final," how can it be final again?

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