Death has been personified in a number of different ways since the dawn of cinema. He was a hooded chess wiz in The Seventh Seal, a mysterious party animal in The Doors and a peanut-butter-eating pretty boy in Meet Joe Black. Death doesn't actually appear onscreen in any of the Final Destination movies, but if he did, he'd probably resemble an unholy cross between Ashton Kutcher and Jim Carrey. That's because this series of teenybopper horror flicks depicts the Grim Reaper as the ultimate prankster. He doesn't just sit back and wait for his victims to come to him; instead, he designs elaborate traps to snare these poor, unsuspecting souls. In the first Final Destination, for example, one kid slips on a wet bathroom floor and winds up hanging himself on the clothesline above the bathtub. Then in Final Destination 2, another boy narrowly escapes from his burning apartment, only to slip on a pile of spaghetti that he tossed out the window earlier. He lands flat on his back and before he can get up, the fire escape ladder falls to the ground, impaling him through the eye. And now in Final Destination 3, two girls are burnt alive in a freak tanning-bed accident and a jock's head is crushed while he works out on a weight machine. Surely Death has better things to do with his time than dreaming up bizarre ways to kill off dumb teenagers.

But then, the elaborate death traps are the only reason moviegoers keep forking over their money to see the latest Final Destination picture. By now, even the filmmakers have realized that nobody really cares what happens in between the bloodshed. Where the original film at least tried to present some semblance of a coherent narrative, the third installment is so lazily plotted and poorly written, one wonders why New Line didn't just release a half-hour version consisting of nothing but death scenes. What little story there is strictly adheres to the established Final Destination formula. Once again, a high-school senior (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) sees a vision warning her of an impending disaster and manages to save herself and a handful of others from the cold hand of Death. Naturally, the Reaper isn't happy about this turn of events and spends the rest of the movie picking off the survivors one by one. The teens do everything they can to stay alive, but in the end they are forced to accept that you can never truly escape your death.

Watching Final Destination 3 is akin to tuning into a repeat of a television show that wasn't particularly good the first time around. Even those viewers who enjoyed the first two films will likely find the third installment wanting. Aside from the laughable dialogue and interchangeable cast members, the deaths themselves are rather unimaginative, although the aforementioned scene with the weights and another moment involving a nail gun provide fun dashes of gore. As for the heavily hyped roller-coaster sequence glimpsed in all the ads, it fails to generate the same level of tension or fear as the plane crash that opened the first Final Destination or the highway pile-up from the sequel. Director James Wong, who also helmed the original film, is on autopilot here, going through the motions with little craft or care. Of course, if the box-office numbers hold up, don't be surprised to see Final Destination 4 in theatres in another year or two. Maybe by then, Death will have come up with some better tricks.

-Ethan Alter