Dead Funny

Let's get right to the point: If you are the type of person who enjoys seeing attractive naked girls meet a hideously graphic demise, there's a scene in Final Destination 3 that will wear out the pause and rewind buttons on your DVD remote a few months from now. Mega-stereotype cheerleader bimbos Ashley (Chelan Simmons) and Ashlyn (Crystal Lowe) are the type who'll invite a grieving friend to the tanning booth with them, then comment to each other, "That was soooo nice of us!" It's a good thing their friend turned down the offer: In deciding to fool around with a central heating system they don't understand, and smuggling in drinks they're not allowed to have, the girls are tempting fate. Doubly so by getting so gloriously naked in a horror movie.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The Final Destination movies always kick off with a premonition of doom, followed by a group of people — usually young and beautiful — managing to escape the carnage before it happens. But then they find out that fate, or Death, or possibly Frank the Bunny, is attempting to set right the universe by arranging terrible "accidents" for each of the escapees in the order they would have died. It's like Donnie Darko without such minor concerns as plot or character development, and an emphasis instead on gruesome, chain-of-consequences demises extrapolated from the playbooks of Rube Goldberg and Wile E. Coyote.

At least, that's the idea now. The first Final Destination, which marked a transition to the big screen for X-Files producers Glen Morgan and James Wong, took an absurd premise entirely too seriously. The sequel, handed off to director David R. Ellis, placed an emphasis on the death scenes, without bothering too much with the ridiculous logistics of the concept (there's some rule about ways that death can skip the order intended, but who cares?). Now Morgan and Wong are back, and they've learned from Ellis how to have fun with their own idea. They've also learned how to shoot a movie: The first was flat and colorless, much like the X-Files TV show. Here, they've had time to learn their craft on such movies as The One and Willard (a horror remake better than the original; rare nowadays). Final Destination 3 was originally conceived as a 3-D movie, until the cost of properly equipping movie theaters proved prohibitive. Alas.

Since all the plot strands (if you want to call them that) from part one were more or less tied up in part two, this new installment features a completely different cast and refers to the previous films only as a shorthand means of explaining the plot without having to go through the boring exposition all over again. Our victims are a group of high school seniors about to graduate, celebrating at an amusement park where the central attraction is a roller coaster called "Devil's Flight," presided over by a giant Satan, who laughs evilly and delivers warnings culled from Tony "Candyman" Todd's dialogue in the first two films. (Alas, Todd does not return as the creepy mortician, but it's nice that they managed to get his voice in there.)

The coaster itself, a cinematic contraption created by filming different mega-coasters in Canada and California, and splicing in some sets built on soundstages, is where the big accident happens. The song "Love Train" is used ironically on the soundtrack, though Ozzy Osbourne would have been a better choice, because they do quite literally go off the rails on a crazy train. Fortunately (for the time being, anyway), yearbook photographer Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) sees the whole thing before it happens, makes a scene and takes some remarkably prescient digital photos. The ride crashes, people die, and then the invisible force of fate — which, we're told, feels like the opposite of being with your boyfriend — comes for the survivors.

There's been an annoying trend in high school movies and TV shows, spearheaded by Joss Whedon, of having teens converse in impossibly cool, snappy dialogue that feels nothing like the way real teenagers — or any other human beings — actually talk. Morgan and Wong go amusingly against the grain here, having their high-schoolers deliver lines that are utterly moronic. "I so feel this is so my fault," opines womanizer-in-training Frankie Cheeks (Sam Easton), at the funeral of Ashley and Ashlyn, whereupon he proceeds to try to kiss a distraught Wendy. Token black guy Lewis (the awesomely named Texas Battle) has a different take on the service: "Yo, man, these things really suck, man." It makes it clearer than ever before that these films are comedy. Granted, the sick kind of comedy that involves laughing at stupid people being ripped in half, but we know there are plenty of you out there.