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Dead Again

There's fresh meat for the reaper in Final Destination 2.

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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. 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 while 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 avoid catastrophe -- this time, not a jet explosion, but a flaming traffic pileup -- only to have death pick them off one by one via 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.

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).

Final Destination 2 immediately speeds us into the fray via 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. On the way, our hapless leads are plunged into mayhem when a heavily laden logging truck (did I say this film was shot in Canada?) flips out, and cars and 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, each survivor she inadvertently saves lands on death's hit-list. Ugly stuff happens, and everybody goes berserk, but the gory deaths and hammy overacting are well-tempered by Ellis's abundant energy and enthusiasm. What's the joy of watching these folks die? Well, the groove is not unlike a slick, preposterous slasher movie -- minus slasher.

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