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(2003) (Ali Larter, A.J. Cook) (R)

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Horror: Having avoided a horrific and deadly traffic accident thanks to one woman's premonition of it, a small group of people realize that Death's not going to let them get away with that and will be coming after them one by one.
It's been a year since Clear Rivers (ALI LARTER) and her fellow classmates barely avoided a fatal plane accident only to find that Death apparently wasn't pleased that they skipped their predetermined deaths. One by one they met their fates until only Clear was left, voluntarily locked inside the protective confines of a padded psychiatric cell.

A new group of people is now experiencing the same thing. Thanks to Kimberly Corman (A. J. COOK) acting upon her premonition of a horrific traffic accident, she and others avoided being killed. Yet, when fellow survivor Evan Lewis (DAVID PAETKAU) meets his untimely demise, Kimberly and Officer Thomas Burke (MICHAEL LANDES) begin to wonder if the curse is happening all over again.

With Kimberly enlisting the aid of a reluctant Clear, she, Burke and fellow survivors Kat (KEEGAN CONNOR TRACY), Eugene (T.C. CARSON), Rory (JONATHAN CHERRY), Nora Carpenter (LYNDA BOYD), her son Tim (JAMES KIRK) and others try to avoid being the next in line to die in some horrific fashion.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
At one point, the word "final" meant just that, an adjective defined as "last," "the end result of a succession or process" or "not to be changed or reconsidered." Nowadays, however, final grades, appearances in professional sporting events and the last season of "Friends" mean nothing as those involved are apt to change their minds and give it "one last shot."

Death, of course, is final, except in the movies. I'm not particularly referring to Frankenstein or slasher-style bogeymen, but rather the films in which the latter appear. All sorts of high-numbered horror sequels promise that they're the "final chapter," but they rarely are. Instead, they keep returning from cinematic death time and again, just like the characters within them.

Interestingly enough, a 2000 horror film about Death used the titular adjective in its first outing. To no one's surprise, "Final Destination" has spawned a sequel. It's hard to say how many more the series will pump out before we're treated to "The Final Final Destination," but if the brutal comedy horror mix that's present in "Final Destination 2" is any indication, future macabre mayhem is probably on the horizon.

Pretty much following the same path and formula that fueled the first film, this one focuses on a group of people who cheat death only to have the miffed Grim Reaper return to take care of some unscheduled and unfinished business. Like its predecessor, this one smartly never personifies Death, but rather focuses its energies on coming up with creative and grisly ways to dispatch its victims.

While the first film had its brutal moments, this one takes that notion and amplifies it to previously unseen levels. People are squashed, smashed, diced, decapitated and then some in ways that are so graphic they're likely to induce pure, turn your head away repulsion. Then again, they may just generate giddy, if guilty enjoyment of the rampant and unabashed black comedy.

Obviously sensing that such scenes in the first film generated the most extreme reactions from viewers, director David R. Ellis ("Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco") and screenwriters Eric Bress & J. Mackye Gruber ("Blunt") have upped the ante, but with an obvious comedic slant. In fact, and despite one knowing that you shouldn't laugh at such sick humor, the only "entertaining" element - from a horror standpoint - is in trying to figure out what sort of twisted way the next character is going to bite the big one.

The filmmakers have also increased the red herrings and foreboding symbolism, but the latter is done to such a degree that it starts to get a bit too silly. The only twist they've taken on the original story is in having the characters die in reverse chronological order of how they were originally supposed to. There's also a bit where a creepy character tells them that a new life stemming from a second chance victim will void Death's plan (the first time around it was simply breaking the sequence) but that doesn't make much sense.

Some brief hanky panky and subsequent conception would seem to be the solution to that (and would fit in with the film's genre and R rating). Instead, the characters try to act on the purposefully vague premonitions that one character has, but that's never as much fun as it could be in setting up pending future horror.

The lack of logic that plagued the first effort returns here. For reasons known only to the filmmakers, Death is unable to kill the lone survivor of the first film - played by Ali Larter ("Legally Blonde," "American Outlaws") in Jamie Lee Curtis mode - since she's in a padded psychiatric ward. The Reaper also misses the golden opportunity to do in everyone in one shot when they're gathered together. It seems the spirit is just as playfully malicious and mean-spirited as the filmmakers are.

As in most such films, little thought or attention has gone into the characters and the performances suffer accordingly. A. J. Cook ("Out Cold," "The Virgin Suicides") gets top billing, but is instantly forgettable just like her far too similar in appearance co-star, Keegan Connor Tracy ("40 Days and 40 Nights," "Duets"). Michael Landes ("Hart's War," "Getting Personal") fares about the same as the authority figure who tries to help them.

Not surprisingly, the likes of James Kirk ("Head Over Heals," TV's "Taken"), Jonathan Cherry ("Wes Craven Presents They"), T.C. Carson ("U-571," "Gang Related"), Lynda Boyd ("I Spy," "Bones") and David Paetkau ("Snow Day") embody characters who are not much more than fodder for the overall killing machine and therefore have practically no personalities.

In the end, only a handful of truly suspenseful moments are present, but there are plenty of others that will make you grimace, squirm or instinctively recoil in giddy shock, all while anticipating and then observing each subsequent death. With most every ounce of effort and imagination going into figuring out "creative" ways to kill the various characters, the film is otherwise an empty exercise in brutal and sadistic horror humor. "Final Destination 2" rates as just a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed January 27, 2003 / Posted January 31, 2003

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