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Final Destination 5

Though ostensibly successful, 2009's The Final Destination represented to many a horror franchise on its last hackneyed legs. Rote, uninspired and humorless, it scored a (modest) hit only by virtue of the novelty -- and added ticket price -- of its 3D transfer. Two years later, Final Destination 5 arrives with a slightly tweaked formula, a beefed-up storyline, actors you might actually recognize, and genuine, honest-to-goodness 3D. It's still schlock, mind you -- but artful schlock, and a marked improvement over the preceding entry.

The story begins in familiar fashion, with a cursory introduction to the characters, followed by a grisly premonition that sees them perish wholesale. An assortment of cubicle-dwellers at a paper factory are being bused to a corporate retreat when one of them, Sam (Nicholas D'Agosto, perpetually bug-eyed), dreams of a massive bridge collapse in which he and his co-workers are impaled, beheaded, bisected, crushed by cars, singed by tar -- however many ways a suspension bridge can kill a person, the film's opening set-piece explores it gruesome detail. Sam awakens, duly horrified, and demands the bus be evacuated. Seconds later, the employees watch in horror from the sidelines as Sam's vision comes to fruition.

You know what happens next. One-by-one, death stalks the survivors, who meet their fate in a series of elaborately-staged incidents. Some are relatively straightforward; others involve fiendish head-fakes and red herrings. The range of victims is older and more colorful than in previous Final Destination films, in which death preyed exclusively on attractive, nubile teenagers, but the end result is invariably the same. (Not to give anything away, but those considering acupuncture or laser eye surgery would be wise to avoid the film entirely.) As death's scheme becomes achingly evident, Sam, his lachrymose girlfriend, Molly (Emma Bell), and his increasingly unhinged buddy, Peter (Miles Fisher), become increasingly desperate. Enter the ever-ominous Tony Todd, returning to the franchise after (wisely) taking the previous film off, offering a potential way out. But is it genuine, or just another of death's cruel tricks?

Director Steven Quale, a James Cameron protege hired principally for his 3D expertise, takes full advantage of the added dimension, delivering some of the most vivid and immersive 3D sequences in recent memory. Unlike The Final Destination, which seemed little more than a amalgam of crude one-liners, Final Destination 5 feels like a real movie, one with a discernible plot, an element of suspense, and a handful characters who are more than just punchlines. Most of the actors are surprisingly competent, save for Fisher, a credible doppelganger for Tom Cruise (he parodied him 2008's Superhero Movie) who imbues every line with couch-jumping intensity.

Final Destination 5 ends with a twist that, while genuinely unexpected, feels like a Hail Mary for a franchise that can't forestall its inexorable descent into stale irrelevance, despite the best of efforts from Quale. Its trademark formula has simply lost its potency -- a problem no amount of cosmetic upgrades, however welcome, can fix. That the film is bracketed by two pointless and time-consuming montages -- the first an animated sequence that hurtles various hazardous objects at the audience, the second a greatest hits compilation of memorable kills from previous Final Destination films -- is a telltale sign that the saga's creativity is on life support. Perhaps it's time to pull the plug. rated this film 3 stars.