Final Destination (James Wong, 1999)
[originally posted 21Mar2000]
First, a word of warning. (I won’t call it a spoiler.) The marketing team for this movie has been playing up Tony Todd’s involvement in its ads. I gotta tell you, Tony Todd’s only in one scene, for about three minutes. However, if you’re me, three minutes of one of America’s Most Underrated is worth ninety-two minutes without him. But take the advertising with a grain of salt. (Now, back to your regularly-scheduled review.)
Glen Morgan and James Wong, the team that brought you Chris Carter’s two most successful TV outings (The X-Files and Millennium), team up for their first big-screen outing (assuming that the other one they’ve co-written, The Mark, hasn’t seen the light of day yet; if it has, I’m unaware). Morgan and Wong take a genre—the hip, funky serial killer flick revitalized a few years back by Wes Craven—and send it up gloriously, playing the humor over the horror and giving us another cast of uppity teens who deserve the worst.
The plot is simple and original—a teen has a premonition that the plane he’s about to go to Paris on is going to blow up. He warns the people on the plane, gets a punch in the schnoz for his efforts, and the combatants, plus some others, are removed from the vehicle—which then proceeds to blow up. According to a nameless mortician (Tony Todd—he’s actually in the credits with the rather amusing name ‘Bludworth’), by getting themselves off the plane, those who survived the crash cheated death—which is coming back for them. Great plot for a slasher film, which is exactly what this is, except that the slasher, instead of being the class dork who didn’t get enough attention at home, is Death himself.
It’s a clever twist, and many previous reviews have harped on the fact that it’s the only clever twist, and that the rest of the movie is by-the-book slasher film, with every cliché in the genre since Robert Florey gave us Murders in the Rue Morgue. And those reviewers are not in any way wrong; I saw every death at least a few seconds before it came. (Here’s a hint, and it’s an ironclad rule in slasher films: the second someone talks about getting away from the whole thing, that person will be dead within the next five minutes. The first known occurrence of this is in The Mummy, the version starring Boris Karloff, and it’s been a cliché since about five minutes after that movie’s release.) What those reviewers are forgetting is this: because of that particular plot twist, this movie is going to attract a slew of people who have never been to a slasher film in their lives, and they haven’t seen it all before. The audience I sat in was full of people who didn’t expect a single twist, laughed at every gallows joke, and generally had a fine time. (The rest of us came because Tony Todd was in it, and by default, if you like Tony Todd, you’ve seen Candyman, thus lengthening the cliché line.) Don’t get me wrong, I laughed in all the same places, and even if I knew when body #2 was going to happen, it was still filmed so effectively that I think I may have actually squealed (warning: if you had to close your eyes during THAT scene in American History X, this will bug you).
So anyway, this one almost requires a split-personality rating. If you’ve never seen a film of this type before, you’re probably going to like it more than if you can sit down with a plot summary in hand and map the whole thing out. For the latter half, we’ll give it ***.