Following success to a new 'Destination'

Times Staff Writer

In the first "Final Destination," 40 high school seniors from a Manhattan suburb take off from JFK for a 10-day Paris field trip with four teachers. The jet barely leaves the ground before it explodes, killing everybody aboard. The catch was that the disaster hadn't actually occurred -- yet. It was a premonition in one student's mind so vivid and terrifying he desperately tries to get everyone to disembark.

In the ensuing turmoil, five others are ordered off the plane, but only one person, Clear (Ali Larter), a fellow student, senses that he is right and voluntarily disembarks. Upon its eventual takeoff, the plane of course immediately explodes.

This superior thriller raised a flurry of provocative questions: What if the plane disaster signified, in mystical terms, that it was in fact the time those aboard were supposed to die? What if freak "accidents" were to start eliminating the survivors? And, if so, will they die in some sort of order, according to plan? And can this "plan" be discerned, or altered?

"Final Destination" was so successful that a sequel was inevitable. Rather than a true sequel, as is so often the case, "Final Destination 2" is essentially a reworking of the original plot. Its tone, however, is distinctly different from the original. The first film achieved a philosophical plane that allowed Clear to observe, "The only way to beat death is to make something special of this life."

In "2," which was made by a different team with the exception of one of the writers, Jeffrey Reddick, director David R. Ellis projects a vision of the world as one vast Rube Goldberg contraption designed to allow Death to trap us at every turn. The people in "2" become gripped by the fear that every breath they take, every step they make, may be their last. The movie is a real jolter for horror fans who like the charge of gory images but also demand a certain level of intelligence in the proceedings. There's no time for any philosophical musing this time out, but "2" certainly does deliver graphic, gruesome images.

As the first anniversary of the plane crash approaches, Clear herself is hardly philosophical. With the five other survivors knocked off in freak accidents, she has retreated to a padded cell in a mental institution. She is sought out by Kimberly (A.J. Cook), a college student who had been heading for a Florida vacation with some pals when she has a premonition that a cargo of logs would break loose from an 18-wheeler and trigger a catastrophic freeway accident. So firm is her faith in her premonition that she succeeds in blocking the lane in which she has been driving.

Naturally, all the drivers stalled behind her are angry and impatient, but sure enough a short time later the through traffic is caught up in the horrific accident Kimberly envisioned. Then the survivors start dying off in a series of freak accidents so elaborate and perverse they might have been devised by that master of macabre and protracted cruelty, Dario Argento.

These sequences elicit a pitch-dark humor, but they are not for the faint of heart. At first, Clear refuses to help Kimberly, but she eventually comes around. The film's largely Canadian cast is as capable as it is unfamiliar, but happily the one and only Tony Todd, the Candyman himself, turns up as a gleefully sinister and imposing morgue attendant to offer Clear and Kimberly a clue.

"Final Destination 2" hasn't set its sights as high as the original, but it is a clever display of cinematic virtuosity that bodes at least as well as the original for New Line.


'Final Destination 2'

MPAA rating: R, for strong violence, gruesome accidents, language, drug content and nudity.

Times guidelines: The violence is exceedingly graphic and frequent. The film is unsuitable for children.

Ali Larter...Clear Rivers

A.J. Cook...Kimberly Corman

Michael Landes...Thomas Burke

T.C. Carson...Eugene Dix

Jonathan Cherry...Rory

Keegan Connor...Tracy Kat

A New Line Cinema presentation of a Zide/Perry production. Director David. R. Ellis. Producers Warren Zide and Craig Perry. Executive producers Toby Emmerich, Richard Brener, Matt Moore, Jeffrey Reddick. Screenplay J. Mackye Gruber & Eric Bress; from a story by Gruber & Bress and Reddick. Cinematographer Gary Capo. Editor Eric Sears. Music Shirley Walker. Costumes Jori Woodman. Production designer Michael Bolton. Art director James Steuart. Set designers Donna Williams, Nicola Irwin. Set decorator Louise Roper. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes.

In general release.

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