Though it did remind him of the time he was left naked and whimpering in an Albanian resort hotel, Judge Bill Gibron found nothing else unsettling about this obvious Hostel rip-off.
American youth must be completely retarded. Not just functionally illiterate or socially inept, but as full-blown dingbat dopey as a pail of dirty diapers. Case in point—their consistent level of situational stupidity when it comes to horror-film scenarios. Put them in a deserted day camp with lots of rotting cabins as potential thrill-killer hot spots, and they immediately forget their pre-teen training (look both ways before crossing the street, eat all your greens, avoid screwing in the legendary locale of a noted mass murder) and make a beeline for the boudoir. Naturally, vivisection is the result. And how about their tendency to turn high school into a psychopath-training facility? Sure, peer pressure and carefully controlled cliques are the best part of secondary education, but you better watch out who you bully. That unwashed dweeb in the back row who carries around books on beginning taxidermy may not be the best candidate for group humiliation. But nowhere is their lack of brain cells more apparent than when traveling abroad. Even in the most inhospitable circumstance, the future of the world will gravitate toward any combination of grain alcohol and G-strings. Next is the self-righteous indignation and shouts of "USA! USA!" Of course, death and dismemberment are just a body shot away. Take Turistas, for example. Had the characters in this crappy Hostel ripoff simply resisted the urge to get plastered—well, you know the rest of the sad, stupid story.
Facts of the Case
It's been the bus ride from hell and, for big brother Alex (Josh Duhamel, Win a Date with Todd Hamilton), it is a little more than frantic. Forced to look after his little sister Bea (Olivia Wilde, The OC) and her friend Amy as they travel through Brazil, his trek into the country's back roads has been anything but pleasant. Even meeting the sexy Australian adventurer Pru (Melissa George, Alias) hasn't improved the babysitting situation. After a near-fatal accident, Alex, Bea, Amy, and Pru are left stranded in a uncharted Brazilian locale. They meet up with British brothers Liam and Finn (Desmond Askew, Roswell) and the group heads off to find help. What they locate instead is a beachside oasis filled with booze, babes, and lots of bad omens. Still, they party like their blood alcohol level is .1999. Before you know it, they've been robbed and abandoned. Since they were befriended by a noble native boy named Kiko, they head into town to find him. Instead, they meet up with angry natives and even more portents of evil. It's not long before Kiko takes everyone on a multi-mile hike deep into the jungle. He is supposedly taking the gang to his "uncle's" private estate. Turns out, this repugnant relative is up to no good in his homemade surgical theater. Oops! The guidebooks apparently forgot to mention this fatal facet to anyone anxious to be one of many foreign Turistas who go missing every year in sunny South America.
Eli Roth needs to man up and take responsibility. He can bare his burly—and frighteningly hairy—chest and aim his animal magnetism at whoever will respond. But such heroic cinematic defiance cannot change the fact that his stellar masterpiece of a scary splatter social commentary—Hostel—has fueled an entire sub-genre of horror films. Some have labeled it violence porn, even adding Leigh Whannell and James Wan of Saw fame to the list of likely suspects. In the case of Turistas, it's better to call the emerging trend what it really is—a steaming pile of horse apples. Or better yet, let's just look at this gangrenous gringo rip-off and describe it proper as the dullest, most derivative example of motion-picture plagiarism committed to celluloid since the Band family stopped making '80s monster movies. All the filmmakers did here was take Roth's sensationally sick Yankee fish out of red, white, and blue water storyline, move the slaughter to Brazil, toss in a little urban-legend legitimacy, and sprinkle liberally with heavy doses of MTV demographic casting. The final product is so bereft of intelligence and fear factors that it should contain Paris Hilton, several members of the Wayans clan, and a cameo appearance (and signature song) from Hulk Hogan's talent-free daughter, Brooke.
Let's get something straight, right up front—being kidnapped to have your organs harvested (oops, was that a spoiler?!?!?) is not the most original idea for a horror film ever devised. Seems like something The Learning Channel would do a documentary (or twelve) on. But that's our macabre McGuffin here, the reason why our nameless cast gets cold cocked, corralled up, and carved into. Even worse is the directorial desire to wait over an hour before getting to the spotlight arterial spray. But the man behind the camera, John Stockwell (Arnie's best friend Dennis in Christine, as well as the lenser of such teen-talent showcases as Blue Crush and crazy/beautiful), has decided to backload the movie with gore and gruesomeness. In their place throughout the rest of Turistas' running time are examples of Western tourism at its worst, constant bellyaching for any kind of alcoholic beverage, and lots of unnecessary interpersonal infighting. Instead of making the murders the unsettling extension of a privileged few's desire to play God—or just have a little slimy, sadistic fun—there is an entire villainous monologue about the meaning behind these crimes. As we listen to the fed-up medico spell out his motives, explain his mannerisms, and justify his morals, we see a semi-realistic depiction of a body being opened up and futzed with. More yakking. More hacking. And a nation of fright fans falls asleep.
The reason Hostel worked—and worked tremendously well—is that it provided an intrinsic inherent conceit. Basically, we never knew what was going to happen next. One moment, a character could be sipping a brew and hitting on a foreign hottie. The next, his Achilles' tendons were being sliced open with a power saw. Funky! Turistas can't and won't be this tasty. Instead, it is flummoxed by its desire to stay somewhat realistic within the circumstances involved. While the Brazilian Travel Board is probably skidmarking up their shorts over the country's cold-blooded, crack-addicted and crime-riddled depiction, there is no denying that traveling abroad can be dangerous, even deadly. But Stockwell oversells this situation, making everything about this Latin American country seems like a bronzed booby trap waiting to be sprung. Even the local bratlings, unwashed and looking almost feral, are reduced to a rock-throwing rabble. In between all the superstitious pronouncements (one man goes ballistic when Bea takes his kid's picture) and logistical illogic (the escaping cretins take a side trip to a beautiful lake—then go on a Descent-like dive into a series of sinister underwater caves), we are left longing for a little of the old ultra-violence. Instead, we get more marches through the jungle and more pointless arguments between the characters.
That's another thing—we never care about these kids. Heck, in a couple of cases, we'd love to be the ones holding the scalpel. Certainly it's a generational thing. The 17-to-24 demographic to which this dumbness is aimed will probably look at these losers and think "cool" or "rad" or whatever the current colloquialism for acceptable admiration is. Anyone with a maturity level above educated amoeba, on the other hand, will see these drifting dunces and figure that a deadly diversion into the Brazilian underbrush may not be such a bad thing, after all. There is a smugness to the script, a real repugnant First World vs. Third World dynamic that turns our supposedly sympathetic leads into fodder for a little foreign payback. It would have been nice if Stockwell had recognized his characters' intrinsic intolerance, using their bravado as a means of knocking them down a series of significant pegs. But Turistas isn't interested in such undercurrents. It's just one long sloppy set-up, followed by a standard house-of-horrors payoff. Even then, the final showdown between our survivors and their captors is so poorly staged and randomly executed (a couple shots of this situation, unexplained jump cut to another unsavory scenario, etc.) that we just want it to end. There is no suspense here, no scares whatsoever, and very little to make a full-fledged horror fan anything other than angry and irritable.
Like those slapdash Sci-Fi Channel films that take stereotypical story types (killer bees, giant reptiles) and reinforce them with shoddy casting and even more mediocre directing, Turistas takes a decent thriller ideal and massacres it to within an inch of its enjoyability. Remember, this movie is sold as a Hostel-esque effort, so the first 40 minutes are rather pointless. We simply sit back and wait for the cat to finally catch and fully masticate its mouse. Unfortunately, the anticipation is not worth it. Frankly, if you've seen one human being cut up and presented autopsy style, you've seen them all. What this movie needed was the supposed cajones contained in the imagined violence porn paradigm. It needed to slice and dice its lamentable leads with a deranged appetite for personal and anatomical destruction. Blood needed to flow in buckets, not in neatly controlled clots. Wounds should weep and seep, not deliver their disgustingness off-camera (what a gyp). In essence, if you're going to take on the far more talented big boys, you better have the horrific huevos to put up. Otherwise, take your calculated copycatting and see if Roger Corman is looking for second assistant directors. Turistas had potential. As with most fright flicks, it couldn't figure out what to do with it. So it simply stopped trying, resulting in something unexceptional—and unacceptable.
To prove its faith in this, and several of its recent DVD releases, Fox has decided to provide reviewers with non-final "screener" versions of its titles, with Turistas being one of them. Therefore, any discussion of the technical aspects of this release, or the possible/potential added content contained on the disc, need to be taken with a gargantuan grain of salt. Visually, the movie is presented in an overly dark 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image. While the colors look decent, and the details nicely defined, the last half of the movie looks terribly underlit. Truth be told, the subterranean settings of The Descent had more visual vibrancy than the final fight between our heroes and villains. For added whimsy, a corporate logo occasionally floats along the corners, sometimes at completely inappropriate moments (kidney removal, sponsored by 20th Century Fox). On the sound side, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is tantalizing, giving good jungle boogie and nightclub carnival—and that's about it. The dialogue is easily discernible, and the musical score works overtime to try and make this slack slice of cinema somewhat rousing. It never succeeds.
As for the bonus features, here is where things get dicey. Some reviews have pointed out that the DVD available in stores on March 27th will feature a choice between the Unrated and R-rated version of the film. Only the Unrated presentation was offered on the screener. Additions/subtractions in narrative and/or nasty content can therefore not be noted. Also, the final product is rumored to contain a full-length audio commentary with director Stockwell and producer Kent Kubena. Guess what? That's not here, either. What about the deleted scenes, you say? Are they cool? Do they help flesh out some of the film's more noticeable flaws. The answer, is…um, maybe? This critic couldn't tell you. His copy of the film didn't have this publicized feature. No, the only thing available for discussion is a Special Effects EPK that explains how fake bodies were made (no kidding), head wounds were forged, and underwater gunshots were mimicked (all you need is a marble and slingshot). Whether the other hypothetical extras contextualized this otherwise incoherent slop is anyone's guess. Obviously, Fox didn't want those of us in the online journalism community finding out.
The next time you think that diarrhea and malaria are the only things to be wary of when traveling to other countries, remember the lessons learned from Turistas. Not Hostel, mind you, since that film actually has some intelligence and invention behind it. No, in the case of taking necessary heed, this redundant redux has all the caveats you'll ever require. First, when visiting South America, always remember to bring a copy of Miss Manners' Guide to dealing with pissed-off locales. Second, never, ever ever. follow around a mop-topped guy named Kiko who speaks in the kind of non-PC pidgin English that's considered a hate crime under the UN charter. Third, underwater spelunking should only be accomplished by individuals with a death wish, athletes up for the extreme challenge, and as many members of the Lohan family as possible. And fourth, never go back for your about-to-be-autopsied sibling. Even if you manage a rescue, you're only asking for some manner of Deus Ex Machine-Gun retribution. Follow all these stipulations and you might survive your wanderings in the Ugly Westerner wilderness. As for these tacky Turistas—they deserved to die. Such a penalty is too good for this noxious terror turd.
Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Throw them in irons. Keelhaul the creeps! Impale them on poles and make them die slowly. In other words, all involved are to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Court adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director John Stockwell and Producer Kent Kubena
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