Let's start with two raves and a beef. Final Destination 2 is a tight, rockin' popcorn flick packed with nasty kicks. It's also a rare beast, a second horror-franchise installment that matches and in some ways supersedes the original (unlike such sputterings as Jaws 2, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2, The Fly II, Leprechaun 2... got a spare day for the whole list?) The gripe, however, is that the producers of the first film, cowed by lackluster test-marketing, reshot and recut their movie, sparing protagonist Devon Sawa a noble demise but snuffing a much more intriguing conclusion. Box-office money talks, and you can't please everyone, but when the sequel begins he's already dead from an absurd "accident," so what exactly was the point?
Fortunately for discerning B-movie junkies, director David R. Ellis (Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco) doesn't give a damn, though he and screenwriters J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress do find an inventive way to tie everything together. Immediately distinguishing his work from the stylized moodiness of the first film's director (and X-Files exec producer), James Wong, Ellis giddily buries plot loopholes and the premise's essential silliness by giving the people an extra helping of what they seem to want: a crock of shocks.
Herein, a new gaggle of potentially marketable relative unknowns narrowly avoids catastrophe -- this time not a jet explosion but a flaming traffic pileup -- only to have death pick them off one by one by way of a plethora of makeshift, lethal Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions, rather than, say, lightning. The gist is that if death misses you the first time, it'll come back for you when you're behaving stupidly in a place full of dangerous things. It's Jackass with closure.
Much like Jamie Lee Curtis obligingly slumming through Halloween: Resurrection, sole surviving heroine and possible Scientologist offspring Clear Rivers (Ali Larter) returns from pallid asylum-loitering to talk tough and confront her grimly reaping old foe. She and the cheekily grotesque mortician Mr. Bludworth (Candyman's Tony Todd, also returning) basically spew informative exposition about "death's design" to puzzled audiences and the fresh meat ("There are no excapes," clarifies Bludworth). The latter group includes perky new heroine Kimberly Corman (A.J. Cook), and son and mother Tim and Nora Carpenter (James Kirk -- hold your Trek-isms -- and Lynda Boyd). If you dig the characters' obvious horror-mogul surnames (downgraded slightly from a "Val Lewton" in the first movie), you'll love that the film's production designer is billed as Michael Bolton. Talk about scary!
Final Destination 2 immediately speeds us into the fray by way of a televised talk show commemorating the anniversary of the first movie's tragedy, with a fanatical guest discussing an "unseen malevolent force that's all around us every day." Soon enough, good girl Kimberly and her horny druggie friends hit the road for Florida, which is rather ambitious considering that they're very obviously in British Columbia and not the film's suggested Long Island setting. (Are any American movies shot in America anymore? Find way to blame Michael Bolton.) Simultaneously confirming the Canadian connection and plunging our hapless leads into mayhem, a heavily laden logging truck flips out, and cars and (happily) SUVs are violently destroyed, with people dying in horrible but cleverly directed ways.
This all takes place in Kimberly's premonition, but when the real accident occurs (apparently just down the road from the similar one in Trapped), each survivor she inadvertently saves lands on death's hit list. Alas, characters akin to Seann William Scott are long gone (oh, to have death visit the American Pie movies!), but in their stead we get Evan the lottery-winning doofus (David Paetkau) and Kat the idiotic nouveau yuppie (Keegan Connor Tracy). There's also Thomas the helpful cop (Michael Landes), Rory the self-reproachful dope fiend (Jonathan Cherry of the crappy Vancouver-based horror movie They) and Eugene the ridiculously uppity black man (T.C. Carson). Ugly stuff happens and everybody goes berserk, but the gory deaths and hammy overacting are well-tempered by Ellis' abundant energy and enthusiasm, not to mention glib revisitation of the first movie's John Denver fetish.
What's the joy of watching these folks die? Well, apart from the giggles of observing their "safety" pow-wow in a room laden with large spears and a pointy, perilously suspended kayak, the groove is not unlike a slick, preposterous slasher movie, minus slasher. In this fairly emboldening fantasy, it's darkly amusing to watch caricatured players strutting and fretting their hour upon the stage ... and then being heard no more.