Cautionary tales about leaving the safe confines of civilization date all the way back to “Country Mouse and City Mouse” (or at least “Deliverance”). These films are built on a long-standing staple of the horror genre: the Ill-Advised Shortcut. This is generally followed by the untidy demise of most of the protagonists. Settings and time periods may change, but the message remains constant: don’t risk traveling to strange and frightening locales, but rather stay in your comfortable suburban enclaves, consume processed foods, and be sure to avail yourselves of the many entertainment options presented by your friendly neighborhood global media conglomerate.
That’s probably more elaborate of a lead-in that Fox Atomic’s inaugural movie “Turistas” deserves. On one hand, it’s directed by John Stockwell. Stockwell, formerly recognizable as Arnie’s best friend in “Christine” and Cougar, the washout pilot in “Top Gun,” returns to familiar directorial ground here. His two most recent efforts were chick surfer flick “Blue Crush” and “Into the Blue,” which starred Film Threat favorite Paul Walker and Jessica Alba’s torso and hindquarters. True to form, the ladies in “Turistas” spend the majority of the film clad either wholly or partially in two-piece swimsuits (and Stockwell never met a blue-lit, underwater bikini shot he didn’t like). On the other, the movie is slow to get started, needlessly convoluted, and – for an R-rated horror movie – surprisingly unforthcoming with the blood and breasts.
“Turistas” begins with a bus crash on a remote Brazilian road, which would seem to be a good start. Among those stranded in the hinterlands are Alex (Josh Duhamel), his sister Bea (Olivia Wilde), their friend Amy (Beau Garrett), Pru (Melissa George) – an Australian who happens to speak Portuguese, and two Brits. At least they mixed in a few foreigners with the ugly Americans. The group gets wind of a nearby bar/flophouse on a picturesque section of beach and commences with the drinking and dancing while giving little concern to the creepy guys lurking in the periphery or the suspiciously potent local drinks.
Sure enough, the idyllic location is actually a snatch zone for a local doctor who harvests organs. Our photogenic protagonists wake up to find they’ve merely been robbed, while the doc’s henchmen nab a less fortunate Swedish couple who are accidentally killed during the extraction process. The doctor is left with no option but to lure the others to his mountaintop lair and prepare for some dangerously unsanitary surgery.
“Turistas” fails in almost every way a movie like this can. For starters, there’s the patently absurd set-up. I mean, unless the staff at the beach club is in the habit of causing regularly scheduled bus crashes, they’re in way too remote of a locale to function as an effective lure for the young and soon-to-be organless. Worse, the lair of the evil doctor is – we’re told – a mere ten hour slog up a mountain (the doctor himself uses a helicopter). It stretches credibility to accept that these particular tourists are up for an all-day hike without shoes or food and suffering from post-roofie hangovers. Given the hoops potential victims would apparently have to jump through, anyone worried about negative impact “Turistas” may have on the Brazilian tourist trade can rest easy. I feel pretty safe saying the average coed on a Saturday night in metro Los Angeles has a greater chance of meeting with foul play than anyone traveling to Recife for a little r and r.
Then there’s the issue of pacing. For all the hype about this being an equatorial “Hostel,” “Turistas” takes its sweet-a*s time getting down to business. An hour into the movie, we’re still waiting for the cutting to start (not a good sign when the running time is less than 90 minutes). When it finally does, the doctor actually has another victim in the operating room whose sole purpose is to serve as an audience for his monologue. And what could possibly be the doctor’s justification for his heinous acts? It seems whites have been taking from Brazil for so long, he decided to take a little back by stealing their organs for the country’s poor. A noble goal, I guess, but it’d be more historically accurate if the dude operated primarily on Portuguese tourists. That, or Stockwell should’ve set the movie in Guatemala and said the doctor’s family had been ruined by United Fruit.
“Turistas” isn’t so much a “Hostel” rip-off as it is a South Americanized “Most Dangerous Game” (O Jogo O Mais Perigoso, if you prefer). Aside from one brief surgery, the bulk of the film’s third act consists of the doctor and his thugs chasing the surviving characters through an underwater cave system (Stockman must have seen “The Deep” a million times as a kid) that is shot in such a bafflingly incoherent matter it’s almost impossible to tell what the hell is going on. The only thing to recommend “Turistas” (aside from the toothsome Melissa George) is the deceptively minimal amount of gore. You’ll see more entrails in the average episode of “CSI: Ad Nauseum,” meaning a lot of torture-porn aficionados are going to be throwing their money away, and that’s always funny.