Final Destination 3

At her grad party at the local amusement park, Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, “Sky High”) has a vision of a roller coaster accident that will kill her and all of her friends on board. Freaking out, she demands to get off the ride, only to watch it go off to certain doom with half of her classmates still aboard. Learning that by cheating death, she’s only prolonged the inevitable, Wendy, joined by friend Kevin (Ryan Merriman, “Ring Two”), sets off to find clues to prevent death from catching up to her classmates.

“Final Destination” was a crafty little horror stunt show back in 2000 that ended up a surprise hit. The 2003 sequel was a simplistic highlight reel of elaborate murders and gore: entertaining, but unremarkable. Following the rule of diminishing returns, “Final Destination 3” wheezes into theaters, this time minus the invention and, amazingly, lacking the fun factor.

The “Destination” films are basically a snuff film series, albeit one with a certain cartoon factor. “Destination 3” opens promisingly with an extended runaway roller coaster sequence that announces returning creators Glenn Morgan and James Wong are back in the saddle (after getting spanked with their flop remake, “Willard”); promising that they’re ready to dish out the lurid, intricately arranged genre pleasures that the series has become known for. It’s a bravura set-piece, playing into primal theme park fears, and gives the crowd the wet red right away.

Things eventually slow down. And then they grind to a halt.

Morgan and Wong (both sat out the second installment) feel the need with this sequel to clarify every move the characters make, coming close to squeezing in some actual logic to the shenanigans. By removing the Death character (Tony Todd, who vocally cameos), the filmmakers try to compensate by creating photographic clues for Wendy to follow to prevent the horrible future. These clues are tedious creations, awkwardly employed to add some cerebral substance to a series that is so much more confident without any. The clues also stop the film cold, with the filmmakers relying on mediocre acting talent to deliver an even worse script that suspiciously takes large amounts of screentime (the whole film feels ridiculously padded) to explain the obvious.

Note to Hollywood: 40 year-old men shouldn’t write dialog for teenage characters. Said men also shouldn’t cast a group of twentysomethings to play these teenagers. It’s hard to concentrate on their youthful panic with their crow’s feet and breast implants.

While “Destination 3” is as playful and visually puzzle-like as the other films, Wong and Morgan soon cross the line into tastelessness by including 9/11 imagery that introduces a thin coating of real world dread into a film series that is practically grotesque Looney Tunes outtakes at this point. Now how am I supposed to enjoy beheadings and tanning bed deep-frying after seeing reminders of that tragedyr

“Destination 3” eventually reaches a point where the snuff sequences are almost an afterthought to the whole endeavor. Morgan and Wong are so caught up in their deliberately complicated script that the kills lose their luster as the film continues. The complicated arrangement is still there, but I guess by the third installment, the inspirations for these things are drying up. There are still gristly goodies to enjoy, no doubt, yet the shock value of the sequences has been lost to a severe case of sequelitis.

I know the target audience couldn’t care less about the movie itself, but to get to the good stuff, you have to sit through atrocious dialog, amateur acting, and a snail’s pace, and maybe there’s 15 minutes of good material here. That’s a deal even Death would walk away from.

Rating: D