"Turistas" is "Hostel
"-lite, a cowardly slice of the recently-branded "torture cinema" in which people are dissected, eviscerated and tormented for the enjoyment of hardcore gore fans everywhere. This subgenre, which also includes the likes of 2004's "Saw
," 2005's "Saw II
," "Wolf Creek
" and "High Tension
," and 2006's "Saw III
," requires a no-holds-barred approach and some sort of social value outside of mere gruesome exploitation. 2006's "Hostel
," for example, which stands as one of the best motion pictures in a decidedly weak year for movies, was expertly directed by Eli Roth, so atmospheric that you could cut the tension with a knife, and had characters that felt real and relatable. More than that, the film was a provocative, albeit extreme, study of xenophobia, as three foreign backpackers run afoul of a Slavakian hostel secretly fronting a mob organization where everyday people pay for the chance to live out their ultimate murderous fantasies.
The like-minded "Turistas" holds many of the same themes, but nowhere near the ambition, creative drive, filmmaking artistry, or intelligence. Aqua-obsessed director John Stockwell (2002's "Blue Crush
" and 2005's "Into the Blue
") once again lets his interest in lush underwater photography get in the way of what this time proves to be a potentially thought-provoking premise. It's a shame, too, because the film's slow-burn first act is intoxicatingly developed, promising a payoff that never comes. Neither director Stockwell nor first-time screenwriter Michael Ross are willing to commit to making a straight horror flick; they shy away from scares and the horrific possibilities of the plot while introducing a lot of incomprehensible chase scenesmost of them set in underwater cavesthat are too darkly lit to decipher what is happening, and to whom.
American tourists Alex (Josh Duhamel), younger sister Bea (Olivia Wilde) and her friend Amy (Beau Garrett) are making their way across Brazil when their bus wrecks. Stuck in the middle of nowhere without transportation, the three of them quickly join forces with a few fellow stranded bus ridersAustralian traveler Pru (Melissa George) and British buds Finn (Desmond Askew) and Liam (Max Brown)and make their way to a nearby beach resort. A night of partying ends abruptly when they wake up the next morning to find that they were drugged and their money and passports stolen. Frightened strangers in a strange land, friendly native Kiko (Agles Steib) offers to take them to his uncle's house, buried deep within the Brazilian jungle, while they figure out their next move. What none of them have any way of knowing is that the whole thing is an elaborate setup masterminded by Zamora (Miguel Lunardi), a doctor who makes his living out of harvesting the organs of overseas tourists.
"Turistas" is at its best in the first half, strikingly introducing one hairy situation after the next for its strictly two-dimensional protagonists. Director John Stockwell's depiction of being helpless in a foreign, possibly dangerous landscape is palpably felt, leading his characters and the viewer into a sort of heart of darkness from which there may be no escape. Once the setting shifts to the secluded house in the jungle, the film's carefully mounting suspense suddenly deflates.
Following a squirm-inducing surgery sequence that claims the life of the sluttiest member of the group (of course), Stockwell wimps out, pulls away from his central story conceit, and begins drowning literally and figuratively in incompetently shot getaway scenes where the characters do dumb things in minimal light. So poorly lit are some key moments that it is impossible to figure out what is going on, and who is meeting a nasty end. The elaborate climactic underwater chase also falls victim to this, though a certain degree of dread is still mustered from the claustrophobia generated and the convincing desperate gasps of air coming from the actors. As for the ending, it is sorely anticlimactic and gaping with plot holes.
There isn't a single standout performance among the ensemble of young up-and-comers. The characters are flatly drawn and not sympathetic enough for the viewer to care one way or another about their fates. The chopping block victims in any "Friday the 13th" sequel have more character development than these folks. One cataclysmic failure of "Turistas" is the lack of a good villain. Main antagonist Zamora, played by Miguel Lunardi, is dull, forgettable, and not very threatening once he explains his motives while snatching the organs of an unfortunate American.
As the inaugural release of Fox Atomic, the new genre label of 20th Century Fox, "Turistas" isn't a reassuring start for the company. The R-rating is appreciative, but the film otherwise doesn't take any chances. There are no surprises, no unexpected story turns or character fates, and the comment it wants to make on foreign relations is thrown away just as soon as it starts to get interesting. "Turistas" is one long setup that ends up being much ado about nothing.