[Screen It]

(2006) (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ryan Merriman) (R)

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Horror: Various high school students try to avoid being the next victim when Death comes calling following their unlikely survival of a deadly roller coaster accident.
It's senior night at the local amusement park for students from McKinley High and the main attraction for most is the huge Devil's Flight roller coaster. That is, except for Wendy Christensen (MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD) who's there with her best friend Carrie (GINA HOLDEN) and their respective boyfriends Jason (JESSE MOSS) and Kevin Fischer (RYAN MERRIMAN). Wendy, who's taking photos for the school yearbook, is already nervous and refuses to sit in the front with Jason, thus ending up in the back with Kevin. But when she has a vision of a horrible and deadly derailment, she freaks out, thus causing a number of students to get off the train.

Jason and Carrie aren't among them and despite Wendy's efforts to stop the train, she's removed from the platform, only then to see her vision come true. As a result, those left on the train are all killed. Feeling overwhelming grief and guilt, Wendy just wants to graduate and be done with everything related to what occurred, but Kevin feels the need to take care of her since he promised that to Jason before the fateful ride.

Kevin also brings up previous events where the last-minute survivors of other deadly accidents ended up being killed one-by-one in the order they should have originally died. With clues apparently in the photos Wendy took that night at the amusement park, she and Kevin try to figure out who might be next and how they'll be killed.

Among those who got off the coaster before it crashed is the lascivious Frankie (SAM EASTON) who's obviously attracted to the elitist beauties Ashley (CHELAN SIMMONS) and Ashlyn (CRYSTAL LOWE). Jock Lewis (TEXAS BATTLE) thinks Wendy and Kevin are crazy and subsequently taunts Death to take him, while Goth student Ian (KRIS LEMCHE) and his girlfriend Erin (ALEXZ JOHNSON) are similarly skeptical, which also holds true for Wendy's younger sister Julie (AMANDA CREW) who had crashed the seniors only event. When the deaths start occurring, Wendy and Kevin do what they can to warn the others, all while taking steps they hope will protect themselves.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
Aside from a few exceptions to the rule, whenever a movie series gets to its third or higher installment, originality is pretty much thrown out the window in favor of familiar repetitiveness. That's especially true in the horror genre where there's usually a killer or monster of some sort who/that continues with their spree of death and destruction started or similarly continued in the preceding film(s).

In the first two "Final Destination" movies, that entity was none other than the grim reaper himself. Miffed that a number of young people cheated his calling by barely eluding disaster (a plane crash the first time, a chain reaction highway wreck the second), he then set out to round up those escapees, although he was never personified by the likes of Bengt Ekerot or Brad Pitt.

Instead, he (we're assuming it's a he) was just an omnipresent force who enacted the old "wrong place at the wrong time" scenario for the victims. The fun -- if you will -- or at least the guilty pleasure of the first two films was in the horrific, Rube Goldberg type way that Death dispatched his victims. A heart attack or lightning strike would work, but where's the sport in that?

Instead, there had to be an elaborate series of events leading up to the demise, and fans of such material reveled in that buildup as well as the figurative and literal execution of the plan. And the grislier, more shocking and sudden the deaths (where such fatalities had more visual and visceral impact than in most horror films -- the better (at least for those into that sort of thing).

The same scenario plays out in "Final Destination 3" -- leading us to believe that title is something of a misnomer -- but such material isn't quite as shocking, surprising or "entertaining" (in that guilty pleasure fashion) as it once was. Despite the first picture's filmmakers -- writer/director James Wong and fellow scribe Glen Morgan -- returning after skipping the second outing, things feel a bit duller.

Whether that's due to the filmmaking and/or the familiarity and repetitiveness is debatable (although I put my money on all three), but nearly all of the purported shocking material -- from the initial roller coaster disaster to the various individual deaths -- lack the pizzazz that fueled the original offerings. And for a film where that's the one and only big attraction, that's obviously something of a notable failure or at least a let-down.

As in the previous entries and most such genre films, regular movie artistry is an afterthought, and the majority of the characters are present simply as fodder for the great cinematic meat grinder. Per the horror playbook, however, there's one character -- nearly always a young woman -- who tries to stop what's occurring or at least alert the others about the pending danger.

Here, that's Mary Elizabeth Winstead playing a high school senior who eventually figures out the photos she took at the ill-fated amusement park trip hold clues about who's next on Death's list and how they might die. That's about the only twist on the original stories, but the filmmakers don't really do anything particularly fun or imaginative with such material. While the photos serve as an appetizer for the pending and inevitable Goldbergian sequences, they otherwise don't add much to the proceedings.

Perhaps if the first two films didn't exist, this one might be seem like one heck of a grisly ride. Due to sheer repetition and familiarity, however, most of the thrills and chills are far too muted for this to be considered a guilty pleasure like the first two times around. Although I'm sure the fans will keep this series alive -- at least through this installment -- perhaps its time to put an end to these Final Destinations. The third edition rates as just a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed February 7, 2006 / Posted February 10, 2006

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