"Final Destination" opens like a segment on the nightly news. Forty high school seniors from an affluent Manhattan suburb, accompanied by four teachers, take off from JFK for a 10-day Paris field trip. Their jetliner barely leaves the ground before it explodes, killing everybody aboard.
The catch in this superior thriller is that the disaster actually hasn't happened--yet. It takes place, with bone-chilling authenticity, as a premonition in the mind of one of the students, Alex (Devon Sawa), an otherwise regular though very bright guy. Never before has Alex experienced a premonition, but it occurs to him with such force and power that he tries to get everyone to leave the plane before it takes off.
In the ensuing turmoil, five others involved wind up ordered off the plane. Only one person, Clear (Ali Larter), a fellow student who has not shared in Alex's hellish vision but has experienced an overwhelming sense that he is right, joins him in disembarking of her own volition. You guessed it: When the plane finally does take off it immediately explodes.
This swift and scary New Line release marks a terrific theatrical feature debut for television veterans Glen Morgan and James Wong, executive producers of TV's "The Others" series, whose work as supervising producers of "The X-Files"--they also wrote and Wong directed one segment--won them a 1996 Golden Globe. Morgan produced "Final Destination," Wong directed it, and they collaborated with Jeffrey Reddick in turning his story into a script. Morgan and Wong's previous big-screen credit was as co-writing Penelope Spheeris' unsettling 1985 "The Boys Next Door."
Alex's life swiftly turns hellish, even though FBI investigators soon clear him of any involvement in the explosion. Alex's dire premonition so upsets his community that he is widely regarded with fear and loathing. At one point he exclaims that he, after all, did save six other lives.
Or did he? What if the plane disaster simply signified, in mystical terms, that it was in fact everyone aboard's time 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 how can this "plan" be discerned, and beyond that, altered? Along with the fast pace and hard action genre thrillers are expected to deliver, "Final Destination" unfolds on an unusually intelligent and philosophical plane.
"Final Destination" makes us feel helpless before fate, and as Alex becomes obsessed with cheating death, Clear counters wisely: "The only way to beat death is to make something special of this life." But will they get much of a chance to do so?
When catastrophe strikes in "Final Destination," as you know it will again, these incidents, including the airplane explosion, are terrifyingly real--and therefore, too intense for youngsters. They don't have that credibility-defying exaggeration of those big, razzle-dazzle blockbusters but of the more mundane and therefore scarier combinations of fire, electricity and water; of deadly contacts between elements and items in most every household.
As a director, Wong is as adept at guiding actors as he is in communicating complex ideas and thoughts. "Final Destination," photographed by Robert McLachlan, is an intensely visual experience. It wittily pays homage to a roster of suspense and horror masters in many of its characters' surnames, including Universal's prolific George Waggner, who directed "The Wolf Man" and many of the studio's Maria Montez Technicolor epics. "Final Destination" is a worthy tribute to them.
Final Destination, 2000. R, for violence and terror, and for language. A New Line Cinema presentation of a Warren Zie/Craig Perry production. Director James Wong. Producer Glen Morgan. Executive producers Brian Witten, Richard Brenner. Screenplay by Glen Morgan & James Wong and Jeffrey Reddick; from a story by Reddick. Cinematographer Robert McLachlan. Editor James Coblentz. Music Shirley Walker. Costumes Jori Woodman. Visual effects supervisor-producer Ariel Velasco Shaw. SPFX coordinator Terry Sonderhoff. Production designer John Willet. Art director William Heslup. Set decorator Mary-Lou Storey. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Devon Sawa as Alex Browning. Ali Larter as Clear Rivers. Kerr Smith as Carter Horton. Kristen Cloke as Valerie Lewton.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun