Warner Brothers Pictures
Emma Bell in a scene from “Final Destination 5,’’ directed by Steven Quale. (Warner Brothers Pictures)
Who would have guessed that the “Final Destination’’ series could cling to life for so long - 11 years, five movies, and scads of grisly impalements and decapitations - without some iconic bogeyman anchoring the franchise? There’s no Ghostface, Leatherface, Freddy, or Jason - just Tony Todd popping up now and again as the mildly creepy messenger giving photogenic calamity dodgers the bad news that Death intends to get them anyway. As far as viscerally hardcore horror goes, it’s jeopardy that qualifies as almost, gosh, abstract.
The 3-D installment “Final Destination 5’’ works the atypical-yet-typical formula again, this time with a busload of office workers who ditch their ride moments before a catastrophic suspension bridge collapse. Director Steven Quale, a James Cameron crew vet, apparently hasn’t gleaned much about immersive 3-D from his boss, but he does deliver the appalling goods for this requisite set piece, from lethal breakaway cables to an unfortunately situated sailboat mast. (Picture that famous 1940 footage of an unoccupied Tacoma Narrows Bridge being twisted apart by high winds - only with hapless CG casualties and comin’-atcha lethal rebar flying around.)
The should’ve-been victims include underassertive Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto), whose premonition temporarily saves the group; melancholy Molly (Emma Bell), the girlfriend who has just broken up with him; and a co-worker pool heavy on hotness, light on Dunder Mifflin-style wonkery. For story convenience, they also moonlight: Sam’s passion is working as a chef, putting him in close proximity to cleavers and Frialators, while office intern Candice (Ellen Wroe) is a competitive gymnast, and clearly headed for a fall. (That is, if the arena’s precariously dangling ceiling A/C and other diabolically teased safety hazards don’t get her first.)
Silly plot cheats notwithstanding, writer Eric Heisserer’s script also flashes cleverness, from catty dialogue to subtle pop referencing that seems out of touch until a climactic twist explains all. Stabs at the dramatic don’t amount to anything that makes us care, even for Bell, who has been solid on AMC’s “The Walking Dead’’ and in the chairlift chiller “Frozen.’’ But genre fans who have been thirsting for gore via acupuncture needles or a LASIK machine should get their giddy fill.
Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.