The Final Destination series is one of those hor­ror fran­chis­es that is amus­ing and mad­den­ing all at once.  If you set your stan­dards low enough, they can be amus­ing: every entry appeals to the rep­tile-brain part of hor­ror fans by serv­ing up a hand­ful of slash­er-movie twits and then slic­ing and dic­ing them via hilar­i­ous­ly elab­o­rate Rube Goldberg slash­er-set­pieces.  It deliv­ers what it promis­es and some­times the results are as hyp­notic: even detrac­tors of the series will admit that the free­way-pile­up mas­sacre that opens Final Destination 2 is bril­liant­ly staged and edit­ed.

However, the­se films are also frus­trat­ing to watch because when you think about it, they waste a great con­cept. The idea of a set of super­nat­u­ral rules gov­ern­ing the lives and deaths of every­one is a fas­ci­nat­ing premise that could be tak­en in a num­ber of direc­tions.  If you added actu­al char­ac­ter­i­za­tions to the mix and allowed them to have psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly com­plex respons­es to their predica­ment, you could take it even fur­ther. Or you could go the oth­er direc­tion and make an all-out moral­is­tic black com­e­dy with gory punch­li­nes à la E.C. Comics.  That said, mar­ket­ing always wins the day with this series and the Final Destination films are lit­tle more than a series of nifty splat­ter set­pieces held togeth­er with a lot of dull padding.

Thus, it’s no sur­prise that Final Destination 5 is more of the same: the kind of com­pli­cat­ed mech­a­nism-of-death set­pieces that gath­ered steam in parts 2 and 3 com­bined with added kick of dig­i­tal 3-D that was intro­duced in part 4.  This time our Final Couple are Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto), an aspir­ing chef, and Molly (Emma Bell), his girl­friend.  They have some vague­ly defined romance trou­bles but what real­ly mat­ters is that Sam has the oblig­a­tory “vision” of a dis­as­ter in which a col­laps­ing bridge will kill him, Molly and a gag­gle of co-work­ers en route to a cor­po­rate retreat.  Sam suc­ceeds in sav­ing Molly and a hand­ful of oth­ers before the bridge proves his vision was cor­rect.

As any fan of the series know, this is Death’s cue to swoop in and start claim­ing the ensem­ble cast one by one for the crime of avoid­ing his grasp.  Everything plays out exact­ly the way you would expect: the least-devel­oped mem­bers of the group get picked off first, there’s a Tony Todd cameo, the sur­vivors real­ize the pat­tern of the deaths and then they try to escape Death for the sec­ond time.  The one new wrin­kle added here is the idea that a poten­tial vic­tim can paci­fy Death by killing some­one else and absorbing the time that per­son has left but that doesn’t get in the way of the recy­cled sto­ry beats.

The nice thing about Final Destination 5 is that it’s a slight step up from its pre­de­ces­sor, at least from a tech­ni­cal stand­point: more mon­ey was obvi­ous­ly spent on it and the pres­ence of a James Cameron pro­tégé in the director’s chair ensures that the film is pre­cise in how its stages its eye-pop­ping 3-D gore spec­ta­cles.  Tony Todd is suit­ably effec­tive in his three-scene cameo as the dark­ly humor­ous coro­ner who func­tions as the film’s Greek cho­rus and Miles Fisher is the only mem­ber of the youth­ful cast who taps into the film’s campy-dra­mat­ics poten­tial as a cowork­er who comes unglued in a Tom Cruise-esque fash­ion.

On the down­side, the film flat­li­nes when­ev­er it isn’t indulging in its grue­some set­pieces, par­tic­u­lar­ly the numb­ing sce­nes about the Sam/Molly “romance.”  David Koechner is in there as a smarmy boss and Courtney B. Vance as a detec­tive but their bits don’t add to much — and that means the film wastes its two best non-Todd actors. The plot starts to run out of steam after its first four kills and the added rule about sub­sti­tut­ing a vic­tim doesn’t change things up enough to fight off the dol­drums.  Even worse, the set­piece prompt­ed by that new rule is a per­func­to­ry bit of busi­ness that looks cheap and dull com­pared to the impres­sive kills that pre­ced­ed it.

How much you get out of Final Destination 5 will depend on well you adjust your expec­ta­tions.  If you’re a trash 3-D junkie, the bridge sequence and an amus­ing­ly nasty kill at a gym­nas­tics prac­tice deliv­er the blood-spurt­ing goods.  The expend­ed end twist is actu­al­ly fair­ly nov­el and makes you wish they expend­ed that much ener­gy on the actu­al sto­ry­telling.  That said, you have a bet­ter chance of out­run­ning Death than you have of get­ting an actu­al start-to-fin­ish “good movie” out of this series — and Final Destination 5 is a 10-min­ute dig­i­tal splat­ter effects reel mas­querad­ing as a movie.