When you gotta go, you gotta go. Or do you? "Final Destination," essentially a slasher flick with plenty of teens as victims and the grim reaper as their pursuer, takes on the age-old question of pre-determination with some true suspense and an abundance of gore, but little else.
While preparing to depart via air for a field trip to Paris, high-schooler Alex Browning (Devon Sawa) has a premonition of a fiery explosion that will occur seconds after his plane begins its ascent. The commotion he causes after his brief glimpse into the future results in Alex and six others -- including his teacher, Ms. Lewton (Kristen Cloke) -- being forced to leave the aircraft. As they argue in the airport terminal, the plane takes off, only to quickly erupt in flames.
Although the seven initially seem to have won their safety, it soon becomes apparent that death will not be so easily cheated: Each of the survivors is hunted down and killed by a mysterious force.
Screenwriter Glen Morgan and director James Wong (co-executive producers of TV's "The X-Files" for two seasons) have taken the basic premise of "Fearless" and turned it into the latest of the sons of "Scream." Like that film and its ilk, "Final Destination" milks plenty of humor from horror. "Rocky Mountain High," the classic anthem of real-life plane-crash victim John Denver, is heard over the airport's speakers before the tragedy, then continues to find its way back into the picture as the survivors are knocked off one by one.
One of the sickest laughs comes from the split-second splattering of a teen-ager by a passing bus. Wong pulls it off with gusto, but its inclusion also points to one of the film's biggest problems: With this one exception, all of the film's untimely demises stem from preposterous non-accidents that the shadowy figure of Death plans out with malice aforethought. All that this industrious reaper is really missing is a human body and a mask. (He may not carry a butcher knife, but they crop up elsewhere in the story anyway).
Sawa, who played a similarly beleaguered teen in the campy gore fest Idle Hands, is a likable enough presence. But "Final Destination" does little in the way of building full-fledged characters. Instead, we're given stock pubescent stereotypes like pretty loner Clear Rivers (Ali Larter), obnoxious rich kid Carter Horton (Kerr Smith of "Dawson's Creek") and practical joker Billy Hitchcock (Seann William Scott). Scott, who proved to possess adept comic timing in the hormonally charged American Pie, is given little to do other than wait out his ominous destiny.
On the tarmac, "Final Destination" showed promise of attaining high altitude, but it sticks too closely to an over-worked flight path of terror to soar on its own.