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‘The Final Destination’ skips prior films’ fun

The new film skimps on the series’ strongest point, setting up the most obvious calamities.

I’ve been a fan of the “Final Destination” franchise, since the movies display a ghoulish cleverness for setting up elaborate, Rube Goldberg–ian death antics. Remember, in the game Mouse Trap, how you turn the crank, which pushes the lever, which makes the boot kick the ball, which goes down the ramp and hits the pole, which launches the other ball into the bathtub, and so on? That’s how these movies kill their unsuspecting victims, and it’s made for some morbid yet clever entertainment.

The latest entry, “The Final Destination,” skimps on the series’ strongest point, setting up the most obvious calamities — in this movie, something falls over and then either hits a switch or spills a container of slippery and/or flammable liquid, and then catastrophe happens. It’s like making a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie but forcing them to perform with their feet encased in cement.

As is standard in all the “Destination” flicks, someone has a premonition of a horrible accident that’s about to happen and saves the lives of his friends and some random strangers. Death, feeling cheated, kills off each of the saved in the order in which they were supposed to die. (That’s another smart facet of these movies — they’re slasher pictures where Death itself is the slasher.)

This time around, Nick (Bobby Campo) foretells doom at a racetrack and runs out of the speedway just in time with his girlfriend, their best friends, security guard George (Mykelti Williamson) and some characters so random that they’re actually credited as “Racist” and “Mechanic.” And then, like clockwork, Death comes calling for them.

To its credit, what “The Final Destination” lacks in inventiveness it makes up for in its use of 3-D, with blood and guts literally flying at you. (If that’s your sort of thing, of course.) I paid extra to watch the film in the motion-control “D-Box” seats, which added to the impact of every crash, fall and explosion — I can’t imagine paying extra for D-Box effects in a good movie, but in a middling one like this, any distraction is a good one.

Director David R. Ellis (the man behind such consummate guilty pleasures as “Snakes on a Plane”) effectively turns such normally innocuous locations like beauty salons, car washes and malls into terrifying abattoirs where pointy and fiery fresh-kills lurk around every corner. But he doesn’t bring that same creativity to the deaths themselves, and that’s really the whole point of making these movies in the first place.

Unless you’re really dying to dodge nails and livers in 3-D, you’re probably better off revisiting Ellis’ earlier “Final Destination 2,” still the best entry in the franchise. Not even the meta-moment where you watch an audience watching a 3-D movie get snuffed ranks among the highlights of the series; perhaps Creative Death is finally exacting its toll.

Follow msnbc.com Movie Critic Alonso Duralde at .