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Death Be Not Proud 

Final Destination offers the Grim Reaper by way of Wile E. Coyote.

What if fate has something horrific in store for you, and you can't escape it? It's an idea that's been around for a long time, from Greek myths like Oedipus to the New Testament to EC Comics and The Twilight Zone. Cinematically, we tend to prefer the idea that destiny is going to be a positive force (Star Wars) or, if it isn't, that we're capable of changing the plan to make it more beneficial.

Final Destination generally hedges the two positions, although it stops short of getting seriously theological. As a plane full of high school students is getting ready to take off for France, Alex (Devon Sawa), a kid who's paranoid about air disasters to begin with, has a psychic vision of the plane exploding. He freaks out, causes a ruckus, and is booted off the plane, along with everyone near him. Just as the guilty-by-association crowd is beginning to berate Alex, however, the plane takes off and explodes. Instead of thanking him for saving their lives, they figure he must have somehow caused the explosion to happen and start to label him a freak -- especially when his fellow survivors begin dying in mysterious "accidents." We see from the get-go that Alex isn't responsible; rather, an invisible force that manifests itself as a black cloud seen only in reflected surfaces is out to get them. Alex's theory, which seems more or less to be the correct one, is that they were all supposed to die on the plane, but since they cheated death, death is going to figure out another way for each of them to die, in the order they would've died on the plane (never mind that that would've been virtually simultaneously).

Things quickly get ridiculous. Fate, it seems, has been influenced by Chuck Jones and Hanna-Barbera: Every death scene after the first involves an object falling onto another object, which pushes something along, which ignites something else and kicks off a chain of events leading to sharp or heavy objects being hurled at someone's head. Unless you're the kind of person who empathizes with Wile E. Coyote, it's hard to take any of this as seriously as you're supposed to.

Filmmakers Glen Morgan (producer/co-screenwriter) and James Wong (director/screenwriter) have produced both The X-Files and Millennium, so what this movie tells us is that those shows' ability to frighten while simultaneously delivering deadpan humor originates entirely with Chris Carter, their creator. Matters aren't helped by Wong, apparently from the soap opera school of thought -- a mouth hanging open equals astonishment, wonder, awe, and horror. At first, it just seems as if Sawa is a bad actor, but then you notice that everyone is acting the same way, including Sean William Scott and Kristen Cloke. And Sawa gets better in the second half, when his facial expression changes to shell shock.

Not that this movie is unbearably bad, mind you; it's just a waste of a decent premise. None of the actors are horrendous; they just don't seem to have been given much direction or credible dialogue. Morgan and Wong's track record as co-producers speaks for itself, but Final Destination also speaks volumes about why they should remain producers.


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