Saw VI -- Film Review

There's not really much to say anymore about the "Saw" series, which has found its formula and is sticking with it.

Arriving for its annual Halloween time slot, this franchise is now in its sixth edition. It might well be time for a creative rebooting; the freshness, if not the viscera, has begun to strongly diminish.

There is, however, at least one all too timely angle to this year's installment, courtesy of screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan. The chief victims here are predatory lenders -- two of whom are dealt with in a harrowing opening scene in which the heinous Jigsaw demands a literal pound (or more) of flesh -- and an uncaring insurance company executive, whose struggles through yet another diabolical series of torture contraptions comprise most of the film's running time.

If this is torture porn, it's as if it was designed to be enjoyed by Michael Moore.

Indeed, the film's most compelling scene is entirely free of bloodshed. It's a flashback depicting Jigsaw/John's anguished conversation with the insurance company exec when he's denied coverage for an experimental treatment of his cancer. "F***ing insurance companies," he exclaims, shortly after noticing that the fish tank in the office is filled with -- what else? -- piranha.

Otherwise, it's pretty much the same old story, as Jigsaw/John, played as usual to icy perfection by Tobin Bell, continues to enjoy more screen time dead than he did when he was alive. Perpetuating his twisted legacy is, among others, Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), who may be just as evil but, let's face it, doesn't quite have the same panache. And by this point, the increasingly twisted chronology of the various supporting characters is beginning to become headache inducing.

As usual, what gives the film whatever interest it has -- beyond satisfying the rapacious appetites of gore aficionados -- is the moral element attached to the various Rube Goldberg-style set pieces. Here, it's exemplified by a well-staged sequence in which a man must choose who lives or dies during a particularly lethal variation of musical chairs.

Opened Friday, Oct. 23 (Lionsgate)
Production: Twisted Pictures
Cast: Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Mark Rolston, Peter Outerbridge, Shawnee Smith
Director: Kevin Greutert
Screenwriters: Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan
Producers: Gregg Hoffman, Oren Koules, Mark Burg
Executive producers: Daniel Jason Heffner, Peter Block, Jason Constantine, James Wan, Leigh Whannell, Stacey Testro
Director of photography: David A. Armstrong
Production designer: Tony Ianni
Editor: Andrew Coutts
Music: Charlie Clouser
Costume designer: Alex Kavanagh
Rated R, 91 minutes