Imagine, if you will (feel free not to), a franchise that is guaranteed an entry each and every year. You’d think that this kind of steadfast stability would elicit some looseness in the filmmaking. Each year, you could reinvent the franchise, play around with it, expand or condense it, or stretch it like taffy, while still maintaining key elements that make it identifiable to the unwashed masses. Every year, it could just as well be a new franchise altogether, with the leeway you’re permitted. This is what the ‘Saw’ series could have been. For this, the supposed final movie, I was thinking that Jigsaw or one of his disciples could build a massive space station trap to squash planet Earth like a grape! Just imagine all that blood flowing into zero-G space! Sadly, the new film is just as boring and haggard as all the others. Maybe more so. But, you know, it’s in 3-D.
I’ll freely admit that I haven’t followed the ‘Saw’ franchise all that closely. Nonetheless, I’ve gotten the general impression (and seen enough of the sequels to back this up) that it follows the same set-up as the original over and over and over again. Sadistic madman Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), who was killed in one of the very first entries, sets up elaborate traps for people he deems morally unjust, for a variety of reasons ranging from financial impropriety to, in the case of this new ‘Saw 3D’, an unfaithful girlfriend. The fact that these traps – which have a kind of Rube Goldberg elaborateness without any wit – would take any mere mortal months, if not years, to construct and implement, is just one in a series of broad plot inconsistencies that pile up. This problem occurs so often that you just stare at the screen in disbelief, instead of getting sucked into the supposed drama.
Said drama, this time around, is supplied in the form of a hack writer (played by the old and puffy Sean Patrick Flanery) who claims to have been a victim of Jigsaw’s torture techniques, but was, in fact, not! OMG! So Jigsaw and his contemporaries set out to teach him a lesson through a series of “traps.” (One of my favorite things is how the cops, with completely straight faces, keep saying things like “trap” and “game.” So ridiculous.)
While all this nonsense is going on, there are a couple of parallel plots. The first involves one of Jigsaw’s accomplices, who seeks revenge against Jigsaw’s widow (or something) in what amounts to a tired and drawn out rip-off of everything cool that the Joker did in ‘The Dark Knight‘. The other plot involves Carey Elwes, back in the franchise for the first time since the original (and, like Flanery, old and puffy). He plays a survivor who may have tipped over to the dark side and, in an extremely head-scratching moment just seconds before the movie ends, joins a band of Droog-like Jigsaw followers.
If none of this makes sense to you, you’re not alone. It didn’t make sense to me, and I saw the damn thing. ‘Saw 3D’ sticks so doggedly to the formula of overly elaborate traps, pulled off with little intelligence and no humor whatsoever, that it becomes a grind after a while. You can only see so many people glued to the inside of cars before the zip wears off. The opening sequence, with the aforementioned cheating girlfriend, has a certain amount of zesty exploitation kick, as intestines are flung at the camera/audience with wild abandon. But that’s where any sort of cleverness begins and ends. The highly touted 3-D gimmick is rarely used to any real effect. Instead we’re forced to endure an endless series of scenes with people walking through poorly art-designed hallways and sitting in unconvincing police station sets. The whole thing is, well, torture.