Let me ask you a question. Would you continue to watch a movie franchise once it became clear that the series was going downhill? My guess is that most people would probably have given up on the series after the initial signs of distress became obvious. Apparently I must be a glutton for punishment, because even though the “Saw” franchise has been on a steady decline since “Saw 4”, with initial signs appearing as early as the second film, I still decided to rent the latest installment.

“Saw 6” finds Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) implementing a new game, as a part of the late Jigsaw’s (Tobin Bell) final wishes. Choosing the victims from files given to him by Jigsaw’s widow (Betsy Russell), Hoffman begins setting up his elaborate traps; however, his work at continuing Jigsaw’s grisly legacy may soon be coming to an end. As their investigation benefits from new breaks in the case, the FBI is getting closer and closer to uncovering the identity of Jigsaw’s mysterious accomplice, prompting Hoffman to become even more unhinged and paranoid at every turn. After so much death and carnage, could Jigsaw’s deadly game be nearly over?

So, after five previous entries into the increasingly monotonous “Saw” franchise, does the sixth one offer anything interesting or noteworthy to the series? The answer, a resounding… not really (anti-climactic, I know).

The story, written by returning screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan (“Saw 4 and 5”), contains all of the familiar trademarks of the franchise, such as: torturous traps, the creepy puppet, a convoluted plot, victims that need to be taught a lesson, and of course appearances by Jigsaw (despite the fact that he died three movies ago). Most of these elements have become so clichéd that any intrigue or originality that one could gleam from them has long since been forgotten.

The traps, although they’ve always been chilling, to say the least, have become less inventive. What had been the writers’ sole remaining outlet of creativity (as of “Saw 4”) has now become tiresome and bland. This isn’t helped by the fact that the traps now appear to drive the story rather than the other way around. Prior to this film it had seemed like the traps were merely plot devices to string together the various plot threads throughout the movie. With this movie, every aspect of these films has become a dull, uninteresting exercise in gratuitous violence and bloodshed.

Speaking of the plot, not only are new plot points becoming increasingly sparse between death traps, but the overall story for the series is now a boring, jumbled heap. The incessant usages of flashbacks to fill in supposed gaps in not just this film’s story, but those that came before it as well, has made the entire franchise an overly complicated and convoluted mess that is nearly impossible to comprehend.

Some movie franchises have used flashbacks with great success, but the problem with this series is that the flashbacks are employed to rewrite the series’ history. In essence, they insert events, people, and places into the characters’ pasts that never existed before. It’s one thing to show a flashback for additional exposition, it’s another to simply retcon previous story threads in order to extend the life of a series so obviously undeserving of survival.

I will say two positive things for this movie’s storyline. First, just as its predecessors have done in the past, the final moments of the movie benefited from an enhanced level of intensity. This newfound momentum, consisting of all of ten, maybe 15 minutes, effectively snapped me out of the nearly catatonic stupor the rest of the movie had induced. Too bad the other 80 minutes of the movie couldn’t have been as interesting as its closing moments; if they had been, then this would have been a sequel potentially worth watching. Well, then again …maybe not.

Second, this film’s story attempts to bring the overarching story threads for the entire “Saw” series to a close. Granted, I doubt this will be the last entry into the “Saw” franchise, in fact, I believe another installment has already been announced for release in 2010. However, maybe the next movie will take the series in an all-new direction allowing for this current story arc to end. That way, I won’t feel this pathetic compulsion to continue watching this dreadful series in hopes of an eventual ending that may or may not ever occur.

The cast for this film is just as uninteresting and unremarkable as the series itself has become. All of the victims are newcomers to the series, some of which you may recognize from various TV shows and/or bit parts in other movies. Either way, their work here in this film will do nothing to garner them any future work in my opinion. Once again, most of the victims you learn very little about prior to their capture and subsequent involvement in the game. What you do learn about them comes courtesy of a few brief glimpses of them at their job. They all work at a massive insurance corporation with questionable policy practices. With that knowledge you already care very little for any of them, so any sympathy for the characters and their terrible plight is not easily achieved beyond the fact that no one should have to suffer in such a horrible way. Typically, horror movies try to make at least one or two of the victims likeable, something the writers of this franchise apparently never learned.

There are a few returning cast members, some of which haven’t been seen in quite some time (at least, not in new footage). Costas Mandylor, as I’ve stated about his performance in the previous two films, continues to seem uninterested in his role as Jigsaw’s apprentice, Detective Hoffman. While he does seem more comfortable as the villain, his acting is too strained and awkward in appearance. The man apparently cannot play any aspect of his character subtly. Everything he does is forced and any attempt at subterfuge his character conveys is almost painful to watch. His performance is but another example of how far this series has fallen after the events of the third film.

Other returning cast members include Tobin Bell (of course) and a slightly oversized cameo appearance by Shawnee Smith, both portraying characters that died in “Saw 3”. Tobin Bell as the late killer, Jigsaw, is somehow getting more time in front of the camera in this movie than he had in the previous two installments via flashbacks (this is three movies past his death, mind you). This tells me that the writers are beginning to run low on the story threads that they implemented when they took over the franchise in “Saw 4” and now need to use more and more flashbacks to create new threads no matter how contrived their inclusion may be. That being said, Tobin is still the best actor in the franchise and he appears to have resigned himself to his current status within this thankless series; thus, allowing him to relish in his character’s malevolence once more.

Shawnee Smith’s reprisal as Amanda, Jigsaw’s first apprentice, only exists to make the retconning of the series’ history seem more official. Even then, her character wasn’t really necessary to show on screen. My guess is that Shawnee needed work; the writers needed a few minutes to fill within their story, the two parties talked, and the rest you can see for yourself.

Overall, this is a disappointing movie that is only slightly better than the previous two films in the series. While, “Saw 6” presents the franchise with the potential to bring closure to the series in a somewhat satisfactory manner; the remainder of the movie makes for one extremely tedious experience. Perhaps the mantra of this series should be applied to the series itself. After all, it is a franchise that has taken its existence for granted and therefore, needs to be taught a lesson or die trying.

“Saw 6” is available in rated R and unrated editions, both contain language, pervasive violence and gore.