March 17, 2000


`Final Destination': Lucky Teenagers Skip a Doomed Flight Only to Meet Their Match on the Ground

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    Shane Harvey/New Line Cinema
    Fear of flying: Ali Larter, Devon Sawa and Kerr Smith as high school students who decide not to go on their class trip in "Final Destination."

    The grinning voice of John Denver caroling "Rocky Mountain High" may never again seem quite so innocent once you've consumed "Final Destination," the leaden teenage horror film in which the song is repeatedly used to announce the arrival of death (with a capital D).

    The first time you hear the anthem by the perky folk-pop singer, who died in a plane crash, it is being piped over the sound system at Kennedy Airport minutes before Alex Browning (Devon Sawa), a jittery high school senior, is to board a jet for Paris on his class trip. For weeks, Alex has been having premonitions of disaster, and as he quakes with terror in a men's room stall, the Denver song sneaks into the background to taunt him with the reminder that what goes up must come down.

    Once on the plane, Alex is seized by a fantasy (the movie's scariest scene) in which the aircraft, seconds after takeoff, shudders with a death rattle as an explosion rips through the cabin, creating pandemonium. Berserk with panic, Alex snaps out of his nightmare and screams that the plane is going to crash, even though it still hasn't left the gate.

    Escorted back to the terminal, he ends up one of seven who stay behind. When the plane carrying most of his classmates finally takes off and seconds later explodes in midair, killing everyone aboard, Alex is shattered but not surprised.

    The disaster and Alex's premonitions set up a heavy-handed fable about death and teenage illusions of invulnerability. Having cheated death, Alex and his six fellow survivors discover that the Grim Reaper is in a major snit. And for the rest of the movie, it sets about picking them off, one by one. But if you imagined that death would dispatch them as quickly and efficiently as possible, think again. Being a teenage horror film, "Final Destination" is not about to let anybody go gentle into that good night.

    The executions are staged like elaborate magic tricks, in which commonplace bathroom and kitchen items malevolently turn against their owners. A toilet spontaneously springs a leak, spreading a bluish water across the bathroom tile and under the feet of a young man shaving. The slippery tile sets up a Rube Goldbergesque chain of pratfalls that culminate in a grotesque self-strangulation. In the most complicated sequence, vodka leaking from a cracked mug seeps into a computer, which explodes, cutting its victim's throat with a flying piece of metal. As the kitchen catches fire, a knife slides off a counter plunging into the victim's heart. Ultimately, the house explodes as if it were a gasoline storage tank.

    These sequences have a smirking gallows humor worth a couple of chortles because the Grim Reaper's lethal antics suggest nothing so much as a spoiled teenager throwing a prolonged fit. The movie is especially fond of electrical wiring that runs amok, with loose wires that hiss and thrash and spit sparks in the presence of gasoline.

    But even by the crude standards of teenage horror, "Final Destination" is dramatically flat. Mr. Sawa's teenage clairvoyant is colorless and charisma-free. And Ali Larter is equally pallid as the empathetic girlfriend who feels his pain. The movie is so busy rigging its stunts that it forgets its teenagers aren't just sitting ducks; they're people, too.

    "Final Destination" is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It is quite gory.


    Directed by James Wong; written by Glen Morgan, Mr. Wong and Jeffrey Reddick, based on a story by Mr. Reddick; director of photography, Robert McLachlan; edited by James Coblentz; music by Shirley Walker; production designer, John Willet; produced by Warren Zide, Craig Perry and Mr. Morgan; released by New Line Cinema Time Warner. Running time: 110 minutes. This film is rated R.

    WITH: Devon Sawa (Alex Browning), Ali Larter (Clear Rivers), Kerr Smith (Carter Horton), Kristen Cloke (Valerie Lewton), Sean William Scott (Billy Hitchcock) and Tony Todd (Bludworth).

    Showtimes and tickets from 777-FILM Online

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