Dir: David R Ellis. US. 2003. 97mins.
Teen horror franchises usually take a while to get around to jokey self-parody. New Line's sequel to its mid-level 2000 hit Final Destination speeds up the process by adding a string of comically over-the-top death scenes to a plot shamelessly recycled from the original film. With only one of the original featured cast members returning, the sequel had to rely mainly on title recognition for it is to make an initial killing when it opened at the US box office, where it took $16.2 from 2,834 sites (compared to a $10m opening for its predecessor). Its longer-term and international prospects are questionable once word gets out, and beating the original's surprisingly strong takes - $53.5m in the US and $51.5m international - will not be easy for New Line and its independent distributors overseas.
As directed by James Wong, the original was a nifty chiller with a mortality theme that apparently appealed to moody adolescents everywhere. The sequel, produced, like the original, by American Pie impresarios Warren Zide and Craig Perry, is considerably lighter in tone and look. Its script, by Eric Bress and J Mackye Gruber, from a story by original co-writer Jeffrey Reddick, replaces the first film's opening air disaster with an impressively destructive motorway pile-up. Kimberly (Cook), a pretty student on a road trip with friends, sees the mayhem in a premonition and manages to save a group of fellow drivers from their pre-ordained fates.
One by one, however, the strangers start to meet mysterious ends. Seeking help from Clear Rivers (Larter), one of only two escapees from the first film's fatality list, Kimberly searches for a way to cheat Death out of his remaining scheduled victims.
Stunt coordinator turned director David R Ellis (Homeward Bound II) clearly relishes staging the half dozen sequences in which the Grim Reaper catches up with his targets. Borrowing a few signature tricks from the first film, Ellis turns each scene into a choreographed set piece, with a series of false starts leading eventually to an elaborately convoluted means of dispatch. The variety of bloody but cartoonish deathblows includes impalement by fire escape, torso slicing by flying wire fence and eviscerating by reinforced plate glass panel.
The death scenes are fun in their own dumb way. But what comes in between is often plodding action or poorly staged exposition, with the surviving characters explaining to each other - and the audience - the finer points of Death's plan and how to beat it. The first film created dramatic tension between its high school friend characters by putting one of them under suspicion for the deaths of the others. Here, though, the characters are like bickering contestants on TV reality show Big Brother.
The original film's other assets included a convincing lead performance by teen hunk Devon Sawa. Sawa's absence is certainly felt here, but teen model turned actress Ali Larter (American Outlaws) is back from the first film and Tony Todd (Candyman) reappears briefly as the creepy morgue attendant.
Prod cos: New Line Cinema, Zide/Perry Entertainment
US dist: New Line
Int'l sales: New Line Int'l
Exec prods: Toby Emmerich, Richard Brener, Matt Moore, Jeffrey Reddick
Prods: Warren Zide, Craig Perry
Scr: J Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress
Cinematography: Gary Capo
Prod des: Michael Bolton
Ed: Eric Sears
Music: Shirley Walker
Main cast: Ali Larter, A J Cook, Michael Landes, T C Carson, Jonathan Cherry, Keegan Connor Tracy