Death, that reliable old nemesis, is back for more in “Final Destination 2,” which suffers from the same rancid dialogue and acting problems as the original but with a much funnier pulse. The real progenitor here is less the previous pic than the sick-funny horror cinema of George Romero, and that connection extends to the violence menu, which lists decapitations, gougings, skull-piercings, amputations and more among the entrees. Unlike several recent horror items trembling at the thought of an R rating — and thus dampening their on-screen effect — this sequel goes for the bloody gusto, and will have the target older teen and horror auds eating it up, with steady return customers in vid.
Premise — that Death is a physical but unseen force ensuring the destruction of those who initially cheated it — remains the same as in the original and, because there’s the slightest whiff of self-parody wafting around the edges, feels even harder to take seriously this time around. Echoing the visionary gift possessed by Devon Sawa’s character in the earlier pic, Kim (A.J. Cook) begins to “see” disasters before they happen. During a road trip with some pals, she envisions a horrific multi-car pileup on the highway they’re about to enter. Build-up in this sequence is impressive, as helmer and stunt maestro David R. Ellis and editor Eric Sears stretch the action to an unnerving degree.
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When Kim’s vision is confirmed, she is rescued from her own death by Officer Thomas Burke (Michael Landes), who gradually realizes Kim is not only sensing the advance of death, but the pattern linking a small group of folks who, like her, should have died on the highway. Now, it seems, death will stalk them one by one. First to go is Evan (David Paetkau), whose demise too closely duplicates the staging from one in the previous tale.
Another unwelcome reminder of “FD1” is the character of Clear Waters (Ali Larter), who somehow survived the onslaught the last time around and has checked herself into a padded cell for protection. As a supposed “guide” to Kim in understanding this web of doom, the dull Larter casts little light.
What does become clear is that “Final Destination 2” is a film of leaden dialogue punctuated by fairly surreal and unexpectedly funny action sequences. None is better than a visit to the dentist by mother-and-son survivors Nora and Tim Carpenter (Lynda Boyd and James Kirk), which develops into a hilarious spoof of Hitchcockian birds coupled with being drilled by the tooth doctor.
Though the pleasure of the new film is its brazen thrill in the process of Death’s Grand Plan, it also fails to fully exploit all its genre resources. Most wasted is Tony Todd (“Candyman”), who appears in a single, distinctly flat scene and then vanishes. Many other scenes stop cold before reaching their maximum horror potential. Coda, capped with a final gory-funny mess after a Rockwellian picture of peace, is just the right send-off.
The giddy sequences also help in getting past the generally awful thesping, led by Cook, whose blurry grasp of emotions betrays Ellis’ apparent disinterest in his actors. As the requisite stoner dude among the survivors, Jonathan Cherry offers some dry comic balance, while T.C. Carson as skeptical Eugene energizes what had been a rote conception on the page.
Tech package is excellent for a lower-end studio vehicle, spiced by the franchise’s now-identifiable fascination with turning everyday props and items into lethal instruments. Shirley Walker’s score displays a thorough understanding of horror jolts.