Horror sequels tend to be exercises in creative sadism: same abattoir, different Roman numeral. Giving a pound of flesh where it’s due, the “Saw” franchise doesn’t just look for new settings on the grinder but also aspires to hack out a meaty story arc. “Saw III,” however, winds up with the rest of the gristle.
Inoperable cancer gives remarkably well-funded madman “Jigsaw” (Tobin Bell), a cross between Dr. Phil and Dr. Doom, a sense of purpose. Thus, he imparts his special brand of tough love on those he believes do not sufficiently appreciate life.
Now this Yoda of the thumbscrew has an apprentice: Playing Omarosa to his Trump is Amanda (Shawnee Smith), a former junkie with the world’s deadliest daddy complex, eager to get jiggy with fresh victims.
“III” finds a dying Jigsaw carving out his magnum opus, which involves an embittered father (Angus Macfadyen), obsessed with the death of his son, and a beautiful brain surgeon (Bahar Soomekh of “Crash”) being put through their paces. The killer’s usual moralizing is pretty far-fetched with these two; his main complaint with the doctor seems to be that she’s on anti-depressants.
By the way, although the supposed cleverness of the series is drastically overrated, one of the more memorable new scenes actually is brain surgery. Fans will know the drill.
But more gore is really all “III” has to offer. The first few minutes cram in more graphic brutality than you can shake a bloody, pointed stick at. Other problems, such as flat dialogue, uninvolving characters and a creeping sameness in the no-brain- required puzzles, remain unsolved. And as with the previous two, “III” sorely tests the audience’s goodwill with hair-rendingly idiotic behavior by victims.
If you’re a fan, you’re probably willing to bite down on the series’ conceit that this Lance Armstrong de Sade has the strength, resources and multidisciplinary genius to fashion his meticulous snares. Then again, if you’re excited about this movie, you’re probably not reading this review.
Bottom line, those in the “Saw” factory know their audience and have brought along the appropriate buckets and bibs. Even devotees, however, may note pacing problems and tire of Jigsaw’s selective omnipotence (he can acquire copious amounts of deadly nerve agent but not a bottle of Ativan?). Those who see “Saw III” are in for ups and downs.
MPAA rating: R for strong, grisly violence and gore, sequences of terror and torture, nudity and language.
A Lionsgate release. Director Darren Lynn Bousman. Screenplay Leigh Whannel. Story by Whannel, James Wan. Producers Gregg Hoffman, Oren Koules, Mark Burg. Director of photography David A. Armstrong. Editor Kevin Greutert. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes.
In general release.