Nicholas D'Agosto and Emma Bell in Final Destination 5FINAL DESTINATION 5

Because the quality has been noticeably, if not altogether damagingly, dipping with each new installment, there was reason to expect Final Destination 5 to be the horror series' most tired and underwhelming entry to date. Yet like some long-running TV series that suddenly finds new life after years of going through the motions, this fifth in the popular Death-has-been-cheated-and-he's-pissed franchise is a terrific return to sick-joke form, the most enticingly queasy and legitimately funny Final Destination since the second outing in 2003.

I'll admit that I didn't catch the movie in its 3D presentation, a decision that the film tries to make you feel guilty about during its endless opening-credits sequence that finds a deluge of weaponry and shattered glass thrown in our faces. (My silent response as I watched this assaultive prelude: "Yeah, but I saved $3.75, bitches.") Beginning, however, with the horrific accident that sets the plot in motion, director Steven Quale and screenwriter Eric Heisserer deliver a thrillingly nerve-racking and satisfyingly gruesome entertainment, with Courtney B. Vance, David Koechner, and the wonderfully creepy Tony Todd lending some welcome, grown-up gravitas to the proceedings. (Lead Nicholas D'Agosto and those playing the movie's other ill-fated twentysomethings perform admirably, though they're less interesting for their talents than for their uncanny resemblances to, among others, Tom Cruise, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Uma Thurman.)

The romantic subplot is tedious and the final scene, while clever in a meta way, left me a bit stymied. (Have characters somehow traveled back in time? If not, what's with the film's distinctly present-day vehicles and trappings such as the massage parlor's "Please turn off your cell phones" sign?) But overall, Final Destination 5, with its unstressed motif about the perils of shoddy workmanship, is a huge amount of scare-flick fun - if not, to be sure, fun for everyone. Among those who should think twice about attending are gymnasts, those about to experience acupuncture, those prepping for LASIK surgery, those planning a vacation flight, or anyone who crosses a bridge on a daily basis. Way to significantly downsize your audience, guys.


Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari in 30 Minutes or Less30 MINUTES OR LESS

Earlier this year, in my review of the Medieval stoner farce Your Highness, I predicted that I wouldn't see a more thoroughly charmless film performance in 2011 than co-writer/star Danny McBride's. Of course, at that point, I didn't realize that the man would have another movie - director Ruben Fleischer's caper comedy 30 Minutes or Less - out so soon. I know that some people, especially fans of the actor's cable series Eastbound & Down, swear by McBride's greatness, so I'm forced to ask: Is he this relentlessly yet apathetically hostile on HBO? If so, there's a really good reason that I've been avoiding the series.

Fleischer's tale of an unmotivated pizza-delivery driver (Jesse Eisenberg) and his schoolteacher buddy (Aziz Ansari) forced into committing armed robbery isn't worth much; written by Michael Diliberti, the mostly witless dialogue is robotically crude, and both the plotting and the plot twists (if you could call them that) are depressingly weak. Still, there are about a half-dozen jokes and routines deserving of audible laughs - Ansari's humiliation of a middle-school texter is especially sharp - and even when their material fails them, which is often, mild chuckles are scored through Eisenberg's and Ansari's fast patter and Nick Swardson's mush-brained mouth-breather routine. Along with Michael Peña, whose unidentifiably accented hit man adds to the amusement significantly, they lend 30 Minutes or Less some much-needed personality. But every few minutes, damned if McBride doesn't show up to quash whatever enjoyment you may be having with his narcoleptic deadpan, vacantly off-put readings, and blasé disdain for everyone within shouting distance. He's like a screen-charisma vacuum, but I should mention that at my screening, there was a patron in the back of the auditorium who not only laughed at but applauded just about every one of McBride's lethargic utterances. I thought about turning around to see if it was actually McBride himself, but nothing about the actor's recent cinematic work suggests that even he's having a good time at his movies.


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