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By Brad Slager | March 19, 2003

Hollywood has more than a fair share of brotherly duos that have placed their familial surnames on a segment of the industry. The Coens are known for their artistic and satirical productions, David and Jerry Zucker spawned this country’s spoof craze, and the Farrellys have elevated scatology to highbrow levels for the pleasure of the mainstream. Attempting to join these prolific siblings are the Hillenbrands, David and Scott, who seem intent on leaving their brand on the world of action-horror films.
Their previous collaboration was the herpetological thriller “King Cobra” and now they apply the skills they learned on that effort, (and few others), in their newest release that concerns a centuries old demon that gets loose due to a group of drunken co-eds. Originally named “Demon Island,” it speaks volumes about how bad this must have looked after completion for the distributor to apply expensive 3-D effects to the packaging and to honestly feel that the flaky sounding “Piñata: Survivor Island” was more bankable.
We get an overly long introduction into Mexican mysticism in which an ancient society is suffering from a drought, as well as its share of disease, and the village elders come to the conclusions that this is a result of the sins of the people. It is comforting that the leaders from centuries past acted the same as contemporary politicians by stating all their problems can be blamed on the voters. Their solution is to have their shaman remove the evil inside of each resident and place them inside a ghastly looking statue. The narrative tells us that if ever opened, the evil contained therein will crave innocent souls. Then the shaman sends the ghoulish little totem down river, effectively becoming somebody else’s problem. This is similar to how we send our nuclear waste from east coast reactors to be stored in caverns in Nevada.
This brings us to the present year, as the students of Woodson University are partaking in a fraternity/sorority tradition to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. I have always been curious how Mexicans view our treatment of their national holiday with copious amounts of tequila and Corona being consumed in their honor. I wonder if they flood the cantinas on the Fourth of July and guzzle gallons of Pabst Blue Ribbon by the pitcher along with cheese burgers nestled in tortillas. For their part, these collegians show off their ignorance of Mexican history during a painful trivia game while slamming back Cuervo and speaking at the volume of most hog-callers.
The tradition centers on a contest between the Greeks on a remote island owned by the college where they conduct a scavenger hunt to collect as many pairs of underwear from the seemingly thousands scattered in the underbrush, along with piñatas filled with airline bottles of the good stuff. The kids travel to the oasis in two Zodiacs loaded with supplies, and the contest hosts travel by four-wheel ATVs, all to see who will win the $20,000 prize money. Think of the expenses dedicated to this decadent panty raid next time you hear about colleges needing to raise their tuition costs. Maybe the event was sponsored by Hanes–but I saw no product placement.
They kick things off with an involved tequila session and then handcuff the couples together before sending them off into the wild. What could go wrong? As they tramp through the eco-system collecting laundry, one couple decides that the giggle-juice wasn’t enough and they light up a joint to help with their navigation skills. While spacing and acting loopy, they stumble upon the ancient statue and, despite the absence of crepe paper streamers, they think it is another bottle-filled treasure. They need to break into it since they have yet to dull all of their faculties.
Once they crack open the figurine, the evil therein brings it to life and it instantly takes violent action, killing the dope pusher, (so much for craving innocent souls.) It is not fully explained why the wicked forces were previously delivering generalized evil in the form of famine and pestilence and now it seeks out individuals to kill with abandon, but maybe the change is to be expected when you have been banished inside a party favor for a few centuries.
There is real amusement when Lisa runs back to the others and has to explain that, after shooters and a dose of trip weed, she watched a piñata come to life and kill her partner with a shovel. They are expectedly dubious, but soon the depleted number of combatants alerts the rest to trouble. The piñata itself is a gas as it looks like a bloated, terracotta Mardi Gras reveler with the face of Chucky, the demonic doll from “Child’s Play.”
The rest is nothing more than the crowd screaming and fleeing the CGI demon, which seems to grow in power as it draws more souls into its gullet. We get countless shots from the statue’s POV, that is some kind of crimson triangle, and I can only guess is supposed to represent thermal vision, but the image is so distorted it could just be looking through a Mai Tai. At some point, the beast morphs and chases the revelers by levitating and swimming like a fish. As you begin to think that this does not make much sense, calm yourself by remembering—this is a murderous piñata!
The two stars, (in a loose use of the term) are Jaime Pressly and one of TV’s vampire slayers, Nicholas Brendon, and here they play ex-lovers who have been shackled together for this contest. Brendon is a questionable choice for a heroic lead considering he is the Chandler Bing among Buffy’s Scoobies. Now I run the risk of sounding like a Pavlovian Penthouse subscriber when I take issue with the lack of exposure Ms. Pressly offers in this picture beyond a bikini sequence at the start, but her modesty indicates that she was actually cast in the role for her acting skills. This could actually be a first in her career, and she should be proud.

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