'Final Destination 5': Same Old Meat Grinder
Kat Murphy, Special to MSN Movies
Everybody knows going in that "Final Destination 5" isn't really a movie any more than a meat grinder is. A factory franchise even more predictable than the "Saw" series, each of these little "FD" money machines produces gruesome, intricately designed "snuff" shorts, separated by lame chat among bland-blander-blandest meat puppets fighting to stay out of death's spotlight. Folks who pay money for this entertainment know exactly what they're in for. Eager to applaud some especially outrageous form of execution, during which the human body suffers horrendous mutilation, cheering "FD" fans eat up the equivalent of Grand Guignol comedy.
Honoring "FD" tradition, the fifth chapter starts out with a slambang catastrophe -- the collapse of a suspension bridge -- foreseen by one of the young professionals (Nicholas D'Agosto) heading for a corporate retreat in a school bus. In his vision, everybody on the bus dies hideously -- because "FD"'s Grim Reaper is a real cutup who can't resist slicing and dicing human flesh to a dramatic fare-thee-well. Skillfully orchestrated, this sequence is actually enhanced by 3-D: Holes in the disintegrating bridge seem to pull the gaze down -- dizzyingly -- to the river below, and jagged camera angles on hanging railings and sliding debris muddle our sense of what's up, what's down. The bodies that dance and die in the midst of this mayhem seem incidental to the architectural kinesis, the incremental breaking down of every part of what was once a solid, dependable construction. As "FD5"'s borrowed theme song advertises, "All we are is dust in the wind."
Naturally, after Sam or Dick or whatever his name is -- sorry, these nonentities and their names are like dust in the wind -- wakes up and saves eight lucky souls, Death feels cheated of his fair share of dead meat. We know this because Tony Todd (remember his truly creepy "Candyman"?) turns up as coroner Bludworth, smirking and sliding his eyes suggestively while explaining the rules of the game to the Eight Little Indians. (If this "FD" alumnus had a mustache, he would twirl it.) They remain only to groove on the Reaper's elaborate practical jokes.
It's probably way irrelevant to wonder why "FD"'s victims couldn't be a tad less animatronic. (One of them -- Miles Fisher -- stands out a bit because he looks like a puffy Tom Cruise.) Possessing only the most rudimentary personalities, this gaggle of survivors lack any life outside their function as sitting ducks. Who cares if such ciphers pack it in? Maybe that's the point. If Tom, Dick and Mary are barely animate objects -- Untermenschen, if you like -- then there's no real guilt in dismembering, impaling, burning, boiling, mashing, blinding them, is there? Since empathy doesn't enter into it, we're never forced to tap into our own night terrors. All the gain, without any pain.
Sad to say, the cast of "FD5" includes one Courtney B. Vance, playing a federal agent given to popping up after each horrific demise to whine, "What's happening?" What humiliation for this silky-voiced, top-notch actor to find himself an extra in such tripe. We can only hope that his wife, the beautiful and muscular Angela Bassett, doesn't punish him too severely for such slumming.
At its most interesting, "FD5" conjures visual paranoia about the physical world as deathtrap. Investing ordinary places and things with potential lethality, the movie comes as close as hackwork can to one of the grand staples of true horror movies -- and Hitchcockian thrillers. When the spatial normalcy we take for granted -- say, that of a kitchen or a gym -- is penetrated or degraded, the whole construct of what keeps us sane is undermined. In all of the never-"Final Destination"s, objects like leaking air conditioning fans, a popped screw, and an electrical plug can become linked in a network of sinister coincidence, a series of falling dominos set in motion by a killer Rube Goldberg. When stuff that serves us turns deadly, we're in a world of hallucinatory hurt. "FD5" occasionally generates that kind of frisson, but it never goes bone-deep.
Kat Murphy once had the pleasure of writing a book-length comparison of Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway, friends and fellow travelers in fiction (Quentin Tarantino reckoned it "cool."). She's reviewed movies in newspapers and magazines (Movietone News, Film Comment, Village Voice, Film West, Steadycam) and on websites (Reel.com, Cinemania.com, Amazon.com). Her writing has been included in book anthologies ("Women and Cinema," "The Myth of the West," "Best American Movie Writing 1998"). During her checkered career, Kat's done everything from writing speeches for Bill Clinton, Jack Lemmon, Harrison Ford, et al., to researching torture-porn movies for a law firm. She adores Bigelow, Breillat and Denis -- and arguing about movies in any and all arenas.