Director Kevin Greutert celebrated for subtlety of 3D effects, but fans of ‘Saw’ series silenced by mediocre storyline, acting, lack of suspense.[/media-credit]

The final scenes of “Saw VI” answered nearly every question “Saw” devotees might have been asking since the end of the franchise’s first installment in 2004. A few things were left open-ended (i.e. what happened to the handful of people who survived Jigsaw’s traps over the years by mutilating themselves or others?), but forgivably so. But in the last 30 seconds, something happened that somehow needed another film to follow. This frustration isn’t new, however; audiences groaned after the endings of “Saw IV,” which also ended conclusively save for the last 30 seconds, and “Saw V,” which promoted the deceiving tagline “you won’t believe how it ends.”

The main plot line of “Saw 3D” follows Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery, “Sinners & Saints”), who pretends to be a survivor of the series’ infamous serial killer, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, “Saw IV”). His lie about being a Jigsaw victim scores him a wife, a book tour and a high-maintenance publicity team. All these people are tested in typical “Saw” fashion, through a series of “games” – tests in which Bobby must do less than pleasant things to save his publicist, lawyer, best friend and wife – planted by Jigsaw.

Meanwhile, Jigsaw’s accomplice-gone-bad Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor, “An Affirmative Act”) continues to terrorize the city by creating traps that are impossible to escape, attempting to murder anyone who knows his identity as a dirty cop and stalking Jigsaw’s ex-wife, Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell, “Chain Letter”), who previously tried to kill him.

One pleasant surprise for “Saw” enthusiasts is the appearance of a small reunion of Jigsaw survivors, including Dr. Lawrence Gordon from the first film (“As Good As Dead”), who sawed off his foot to win Jigsaw’s “game.” His comically ominous speech chastising Dagen for exploiting survivors is refreshing after experiencing six and a half movies’ worth of most characters exclusively exercising their acting abilities to scream, curse and die onscreen.

Writers also seem to be stretching their talents to craft a less than brilliant screenplay, which largely recycles similarly poorly written content from previous films and highlights innovative, witty one-liners like “game over.” Then again, viewer expectations should not be too high for a franchise that features people dismembering themselves; squirting blood and testing the physical limits of the human body trump mastery of the English language in the day of the life of a “Saw” producer.

And more often than not, the utter camp factor of poor writing, poor acting and gratuitous violence are entertaining enough to make up for these obvious shortcomings. One scene in “Saw 3D” pays tribute to a morbid, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor: A public relations assistant’s life depends on whether she could keep her mouth shut for 60 seconds (a surprisingly difficult task).

Otherwise, though, “Saw 3D” is not entertaining, scary or even suspenseful. Most people who have seen previous installments have learned (or should have learned) the basic principles determining who lives and who dies. More often than not, the suspense that should be present while the clock is ticking turns into impatience and dread for the inevitable over-the-top gore that is to come. Although “Saw 3D” offers a few surprises, it’s not enough to keep the momentum going from six years ago.

On a more positive note, the film’s 3D effects are a lot subtler and less obnoxious than other contemporary horror films in 3D (read: “The Final Destination”). Save for the few times burning entrails and pieces of flesh seemed to leap out of the screen, it didn’t seem like the movie was written around being in 3D, unlike “The Final Destination.” Director Kevin Greutert could have exploited traps into being more 3D friendly – like in anything that uses impalement, a horror film favorite – but he didn’t.

That said, the mostly subtle 3D effects and the film’s rather satisfying conclusion are largely the only redeeming qualities of “Saw 3D.” To say that most of the film’s violence is gratuitous seems like an obvious conclusion, but in comparison to the first film, where a foot being sawed off was the shocking climax, the opening scene in “Saw 3D” was significantly more graphic, with 91 minutes of increasingly gory acts to follow.

Let’s hope that the production team doesn’t invent a new convoluted storyline that prompts another installment of “Saw.” It was great at its debut and has had entertaining moments in its six sequels, but stopping the franchise at the same number as there are deadly sins seems like the most appropriate decision.

1.5 out of 5 stars