Culture Schlock

Turistas. Josh Duhamel, Melissa George, Olivia Wilde, Desmond Askew, and Beau Garrett star in a film written by Michael Ross and directed by John Stockwell.

Reviewed by Josef Woodard

As we walked into the theater to get our periodic dose of slasher-style schlock in the form of Turistas, the smart-mouthed ticket-taker quipped, “Okay, two for the Brazilian Hostel.” That’s about right, with a splash of TV’s Fear Factor and some post-Aruba xenophobia thrown in for bad measure.

In the film, much trouble awaits a trio of beautiful, young Americans, a pair of horny Brits, and one intrepid Australian woman (Melissa George, the star of the show), the latter of whom has the good taste to speak Portuguese in this decidedly foreign environment. Opting to take the bus rather than fly through a rough, mountainous part of Brazil, they wind up on a paradisiacal beach, where the film begins to take on an increasingly loud hum of impending doom, possible involuntary surgery, and extended scenes playing to our primal drowning phobia. But wait — there’s lush jungle scenery and nicely sculpted young bodies with which to flaunt and tease us before the nastier bits.

Suddenly, in the midst of a most brainless succession of non-dialogue and a blur of hard bodies traipsing through the jungle, the striking central scene of the movie appears. What makes it memorable is the juxtaposition of methodical grisliness with an actual whiff of a political theme regarding the pillaging of third world countries’ resources, including body parts. At least for a fleeting passage of the movie, it seems this is the antithesis of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-brand random teen torture fest. It’s a cut ’em up with a cause. But then the endless chase scenes begin again, leaving thematic material in the dust.

To its credit, this mostly no-brainer film — made by folks more accustomed to the punier demands of the small screen — is effectively creepy, even if lacking much intelligence or the saving grace of self-effacing humor. And as for Brazilian tourism? To put it into a Web denizen’s context, this is one film that will not inspire you to jump onto Orbitz or MapQuest anytime soon.

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