With an array of gory mayhem only marginally enhanced by 3-D and a plot as developed as a text message, "The Final Destination (2009)" may finally sound the death knell for New Line's near-immortal horror franchise. Clocking in at an expedited 75 minutes (minus credits) of fatally gonzo accidents, this fourth installment opens with a stock car-race disaster and then proceeds to dispose of its various stock characters by literally tossing their body parts in the audience's faces. Fans could boost late summer biz, but this Reaper's prospects otherwise look grim indeed. It opens Friday Stateside, sans advance press screenings.
Whatever hints of originality lay in the series' previous editions have been all but sucked out of this one, which focuses purely on its numerous decapitations, impalements and mutilations, and how to render them more lifelike using Fusion 3-D technology. Even the franchise's clever take on teenagers wrestling with notions of fate and death has been eviscerated by scribe Eric Bress ("Final Destination 2," "The Butterfly Effect"), whose mostly twentysomething protags are neither students nor gainfully employed, though they do excel at being tortured by everything from an escalator to a car wash to a swimming pool pump.
While the use of 3-D does provide some thrills, as well as a few laughs, during the pic's opening NASCAR-set massacre -- in which visionary hunk Nick (Bobby Campo) envisions friends and strangers being torn to pieces by flying car parts -- the effect quickly grows tiresome, as do the deaths themselves. Once we realize the 3-D is used merely to highlight whatever tool or appliance will soon turn into a weapon, and then afterward to spew blood and/or various organs in our direction, there's not much else to look out for.
As Nick's premonitions (rendered in highly unrealistic CGI graphics) involving those spared by the disaster start to come true, he and g.f. Lori (Shantel VanSanten) try to save their best buddies, bleached-blond womanizer Hunt (Nick Zano) and gabbing shopaholic Janet (Haley Webb). But along with the other survivors, such as the "Racist" or "Redneck" (as he's referred to at different times), Carter (Justin Welborn), or the "MILF," Samantha (Krista Allen), there's hardly anyone here worth preserving.
Helmer David R. Ellis, who directed the more effective "Final Destination 2" and the hilarious "Snakes on a Plane," seems to be going for the off-the-wall attitude of the latter but never makes the killings funny enough; nor does he adequately unify time and place to generate suspense. He even grows lazy with regards to the rather creative death scenes that marked the other films: Here, a guy simply gets hit by an ambulance or has a bathtub fall on his head, while a woman is blindsided by a flying rock. So much for Death's grand designs.
When their innards aren't splattering through the screen, the actors rush through their dialogue explaining the series' m.o. -- those who escaped the initial accident are doomed to die in a predetermined order (according to Nick and Lori, who "stayed up Googling premonitions" to understand what's happening). Such scenes play awkwardly in 3-D, the actors looking like cardboard cutouts in front of backgrounds that feel more like green screens than actual sets.
Mykelti Williamson ("24," "CSI: NY"), who plays a widowed security guard grappling with alcoholism, manages to give the film's one redeemable character some depth before becoming just another sausage for the meat grinder.