Besides proving that cheating Death is easier said than done, the “Final Destination” movies (there have been 2 so far) rebuts the axiom that the sequel can’t be better than the original. While James Wong’s 2000 original gets points for beginning things off, there really is no question that 2003’s “Final Destination 2” is a superior film in many respects. Whereas the sequel treats Death’s revenge as a series of elaborate actions that can be explained away as coincidence or just sheer bad luck, the original takes a much more blatant approach. Here, Death isn’t an unseen force that manipulates fate, it is a dark spectral that manipulates the surroundings in its favor by supernatural means. And afterwards, it even cleans up after itself!
In this original, a group of high school students are saved from a mid-air disaster when they are kicked off a plane they are supposed to fly to France on. But salvation comes at a cost, and soon the students are being killed off one by one in the order that they are supposed to have originally died. Keeping things in context is Alex (Devon Sawa), the student who foresaw the plane disaster in a vision and as a result got them kicked off the plane in the first place. But can Alex muster the strength, and convince the others, to save themselves before it’s too late?
I have a number of issues with “Destination”, the first being that I’m very surprised by its inferiority as compared to the sequel. (Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?) The obvious physical presence of Death notwithstanding, the original is more of a Teen Slasher than an adult thriller, which I consider the sequel to be. Did anyone doubt that the FBI agents (i.e. the establishment) would be completely useless in the proceedings? Or that the adults, as represented by Kristen Cloke (“Willard”) as a harried French teacher, would be equally hapless?
Other than those problems, “Destination” does offer up slightly more intelligence than your average Teen Slasher. Sure, the whole premise of Death having some sort of master plan — or, as the characters keep saying, “master design” — is really silly to listen to. And it’s quite improbable that the characters played by Sawa and Ali Larter would swallow everything mortician Tony Todd said, given how creepy he is and the fact that they don’t know him from Adam. The screenplay would have us believe that the teens would not only take everything this weird stranger says to heart, but they’ll risk their lives based on it. I don’t think so.
Also, the casting of “Destination” is a bit perplexing. I don’t really know how old Larter (“Legally Blonde”) and Sawa are, respectively, but it’s hard to believe that they’re falling in love when Larter looks like Sawa’s older older sister. On the other hand, Kerr Smith (“The Forsaken”), as the brash Carter, provides the film with its one bright spot, whereas Seann William Scott (“Evolution”), as another one of the teen survivors, really pushes the envelope as a sort of timid, not-all-there kid that looks way too old to be riding a bicycle everywhere.
While not nearly as creative in its kill sequences as its sequel, the movie’s director, James Wong (“The One”), still manages to inject “Destination” with enough good kills to keep genre fans happy. The movie’s screenplay, while being the strongest element of the movie, is also its weakest. (Is such a thing possible?) As mentioned, the “presence” of Death gives the impression of the film as being a Teen Slasher, and the script’s insistence on having Devon Sawa’s character do some boneheaded things is a bit much to take. Some of the characters, as is the case with most Teen Slashers, seem to be antagonistic toward each other for no other reason than to provide the movie with forced “tension”.
It’s interesting to note that with 2003’s “Final Destination 2” the series is moving away from the Teen Slasher genre. This is good news because Death should never appear onscreen in my opinion. It’s to the sequel’s credit that the killings can always be explained away as bad twists of fate or just freak accidents. I hope the franchise will continue along this route, instead of dumbing down the later sequels (and there will be more sequels) to Teen Slasher levels. Teen Slasher movies aren’t necessarily bad, of course, but when you have intriguing material to work with, as the “Destination” franchise does, there’s no need to stoop.
James Wong (director) / Glen Morgan, James Wong, Jeffrey Reddick (screenplay)
CAST: Devon Sawa …. Alex Browning
Ali Larter …. Clear Rivers
Kerr Smith …. Carter Horton
Kristen Cloke …. Ms. Valerie Lewton