Three years ago I was assigned the task of reviewing Saw II for the Voice, and called it a “cursory dud, rushed to theaters exactly a year after its amusing predecessor.” In the years since, I haven’t kept up with the franchise’s annual October sequels, but if the reviews for Saw V are evidence, Jigsaw didn’t go changing to try to please me. Citing the “laughably convoluted plot,” the New York Times‘s Nathan Lee writes, “The only question really worth asking here: Who cares?” The answer: enough people to make Saw V number two at the box office last weekend—right behind Disney’s High School Musical 3: Senior Year.
It’s pretty tempting to see something schizophrenic in this about the temperament and tastes of the American movie audience. But really, how different are the profit strategies of these films? At bottom, both are quickie sequels. They both offer the satisfaction of a familiar formula—what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would call a known known. You can parse the differences among the individual films in each franchise—“the third entry in the “High School Musical” series is better than the second but doesn’t quite sustain the unvarnished, giddy highs of the first,” writes the Los Angeles Times’s Mark Olsen—but their sameness is their very point. So go ahead and mock Saw V or High School Musical 3 if you must, but I better not see you in line for Ocean’s Fourteen.—Benjamin Strong