A bad thriller in bathing-suit weather

by Glen Baity

When last we saw director John Stockwell, his camera was leering at mostly-naked starlets in 2005’s Into the Blue, a stunted thriller with roughly half the plot of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

This Christmas season Stockwell returns with a cast of underfed unknowns to solidify his reputation as the horniest director in mainstream cinema. His 2006 vehicle is Turistas, a tepid non-entity of a film that revisits the director’s obsession with hard bodies and thick heads.

It’s familiar terrain for Stockwell. Into the Blue, in the shallowest part of its shallow little heart, was a movie about tan lines, and Turistas brings it all back home – what better place to pay tribute to the bikini than its spiritual birthplace?

Yes, Turistas – Portugese for “tourists,” if you couldn’t work that out – unfolds under the bright Brazilian sun, as a group of backpackers, stranded in a remote village after a near-fatal bus crash, let it all hang out at the local beachside bar. Unbeknownst to them, reclusive Dr. Zamora (Miguel Lunardi), a major player in the international organ-trading black market, makes a small fortune stalking tourists, stealing their kidneys, dumping their bodies and shelving their passports.

No, none of them wake up in bathtubs full of ice, a phone in one hand and a note advising them to call 911 in the other. Turistas is well-stocked with clichés , but that isn’t one of them. The young internationals are drugged, stripped of their belongings and slowly drawn into the doctor’s web.

Much like Stockwell’s last film, Turistas gets started by treating viewers to a seemingly endless parade of superfluous scenes featuring dangerously-thin college girls in bikinis, out of bikinis, about to strip down to bikinis – really, no one could accuse the film of lacking variety on that score.

Plotwise, Turistas mirrors 2005’s Hostel, a poor film on its own, doubly so in this retread. Both films center on naïve twentysomethings abroad, terrorized by a network of villains with depraved intentions.

Stockwell, however, doesn’t dwell on the gore like Hostel auteur Eli Roth, something for which I’m willing to give the director his due. I criticized Roth last year for making the world’s first boring snuff film, and while Turistas is definitely boring, you’ll probably be able to eat afterward. There’s only one uncomfortably stomach-churning scene, but like many here, it drags on pointlessly. So too does the ending, carried out in a network of poorly-lit underwater caves.

By the time it reaches that point, Stockwell’s choppy camerawork has taken its toll, and it’s virtually impossible to make out what’s happening onscreen (which is odder still, since Turistas is the first film I’ve ever seen that credits an “underwater cinematographer” in its opening titles).

In fact, after the film abandons the beach for the jungle (which happens far too late in the game to qualify it as a ‘suspense thriller’), its visuals become irreparably obscured. The lookalike lead actors, already indistinguishable from one another in the daytime, are nearly impossible to tell apart once they’re covered in grime. It doesn’t help that their movements are captured by a Michael Bay-issue shakycam, which rattles away any visual flair the film absorbs from the beautiful Brazilian scenery in its first half.

Though it gets kudos for dialing down the stage blood, Turistas offers nothing in its place: no memorable characters, no interesting plots twists and no visually impressive action sequences. Not that it really matters, since the viewer develops no great attachment to any of these people. The scenes in which first-time screenwriter Michael Ross should have developed some character history and depth are wasted on montages of heavy drinking, nightclubbing and sunbathing.

The cumulative lesson of Turistas and its twin Hostel seems to be, quite clearly, “Don’t ever leave your house, College Boy, or you will have your eyeballs hacked out and your organs harvested for profit.” Not that a horror film needs a lesson, but if it doesn’t entertain, it should at least offer something. What Turistas offers can be picked out of any bargain bin now brimming with unpurchased Into the Blue DVDs: pretty girls in skimpy clothes, dull action and trite dialogue, all folded into what could be the longest 90 minutes of your life.

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