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‘Final Destination 3’ is the best of the series

Ample portions of humor liven up this horror franchise
In this photo provided by New Line, Kevin (Ryan Merriman,left) and Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) learn that roller coasters are not all fun and games in 'Final Destination 3.' (AP Photo/New Line/ Shane Harvey)Shane Harvey / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The third time usually isn’t the charm when it comes to movie franchises. Think “The Godfather: Part III,” “Return of the Jedi,” or the third films in series like “Spy Kids” or “Halloween.” Not exactly the most glittering jewels in the crown.

“Final Destination 3,” however, is in some ways better than the original horror movie from 2000, if only because it has a sense of humor.

That doesn’t mean there’s anything new here. Director James Wong and Glen Morgan, with whom Wong co-wrote the script, essentially return to the structure of their first “Final Destination.” Only the names have changed.

This time, a group of high school seniors survives a doomed roller coaster ride instead of a doomed plane trip by getting out ahead of time. Then they’re similarly picked off, one-by-one, by the mind-bogglingly sadistic whim of Death.

(If there’s one thing these movies gets right, it’s that teenagers can be self-centered and narcissistic enough to believe Death has all day to chase them around some generic suburb, planning their demise in elaborately clever ways. As if.)

The roller coaster crash — which straight-laced Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) envisions in a terrifying premonition at the film’s start — is truly a spectacle to behold. It’s also the best part of the movie, an intense chain reaction of wobbling wheels and splitting tracks, flying cars and students dangling upside-down, screaming helplessly in the night sky. So make sure you get to the theater on time.

Once Wendy freaks out (she’s the Devon Sawa figure in this film), several classmates follow her, only to witness in horror the exact accident she’d foretold. They include her best friend’s boyfriend, the jockish Kevin (Ryan Merriman); cynical Goth dude Ian (Kris Lemche, doing an extended impression of Christian Slater in “Heathers”); and a couple of popular, plastic chicks named Ashley and Ashlyn (Chelan Simmons and Crystal Lowe).

Astute girl that Wendy is — they didn’t make her editor of the yearbook for nothing — she figures out that these kids are dying in the exact order in which they would have sat on the roller coaster. She gets help developing her theory from Kevin, who found information on the Internet about a plane crash that happened six years earlier, which several students avoided only to die one at a time soon afterward.

(A movie about this tragic series of events just happens to be available in the horror section of your local video store. Look under titles beginning with the letter “F.” Shameless.)

But unlike the first film, which was painfully serious, the deaths this time around have a twisted, darkly funny sensibility about them. Ashley and Ashlyn get it in a horrific tanning-salon disaster; arrogant football star Lewis (Texas Battle) dies in a gym accident that gives a whole new meaning to the term “meathead.”

All of this should be viewed in a packed theater, not sitting on the couch by yourself, bored on a Friday night. That’s not because it’s so scary that you need to be around others to feel safe. On the contrary, the ridiculously complicated gross-out factor is best experienced in a magnified setting where everyone else is laughing just as hard as you are.