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Turistas
Reviewed by Laura Eldred, © 2006

Format: Movie
By:   John Stockwell (Writer/Director)
Genre:   Horror
Released:   December 1, 2006
Review Date:   December 12, 2006
Audience Rating:   R
RevSF Rating:   4/10 (What Is This?)

A group of thrill-seeking tourists enter a foreign country, ready to drink and have sex until their rich, privileged little bodies give out. Unluckily for them, they're kidnapped by nefarious foreigners with their own plans for those nubile little bodies.

Wait a minute. Haven't I already seen this movie? And liked the original? Why are they remaking it? The REAL title of Turistas (in Laura-land at least) is Hostel-Lite for Namby-Pambies Who Don't Actually Like Horror.

It's like Hostel in various ways: mainly, both have been marketed as extreme horror, and the plot is basically the same. (To give director John Stockwell some credit, he claimed that he penned the story of Turistas years and years ago, then put off releasing it when Hostel came out.) However, the similarities end there. Stockwell is no Eli Roth, my friends. Because, at least in my educated opinion (and note I have a PhD here, people, so you need to believe me, in order to provide some meaning to the massive amount of money and many, many years I spent in getting said PhD. Please, please, believe me!), Hostel didn't suck, and this movie definitely does.

Another mystification with this film -- other than its strange similarities to Hostel -- is that it's even been marketed as a horror flick. I guess that studies have learned that horror fans are sometimes willing to put up with material that other fans might find sub-par, or an example of crap even on the most liberal scale. I know that I have, personally, excused many a poorly made movie if it manages to kill someone creatively, or if a wise-cracking killer gets off a few good one-liners. This film doesn't do any of that.

It's a boring-ass sheep masquerading in bloody wolf clothes.

You think you're going in for some extreme-horror mayhem, and instead you get one-half teenage beach flick and one-half chase film, with one moderately interesting death sandwiched in between. I like more meat, and more cheese, and some toppings, on my sandwiches, thank you very much.

Before we get too far in the review from the place where I brought up Hostel, I'm going to wax rhapsodic on its virtues for a moment. Honestly, there's just not that much to say about Turistas, other than that it kinda sucks. Later in this review, I'll spend some time telling you the myriad ways that it fails to be entertaining, and the couple small ways that it isn't worse than shaving your legs with a cheese grater, but what I want to do is talk about a movie that doesn't suck, at least briefly. Because Hostel is the movie that Turistas wanted to be, and because Turistas failed miserably in that quest, I'm gonna talk about it for a few happy, happy paragraphs.

Sure, Hostel was brutal, gory, and difficult to take: characters weren't always likable, the torture might have seemed extraneous; the film can come off as mean-spirited and just nasty. BUT the film succeeded as an extended meditation on the romanticization of violence in our culture. Like Natural Born Killers before it, the very excesses of the violence, and the emphasis on the simmering desire for it, asked viewers to consider their own fetishization of all things bloody and painful. After emphasizing our culture's saturation with violent images and violent talk, the film then moved on to display the utter banality of evil. When a culture is so full of violence, it's no longer the domain of the playboy serial killer; it becomes the domain of the bored office worker, the overstressed husband, even the rich tourist just looking for a thrill.

The best scene in Hostel, for me, was Paxton's encounter with an American businessman (played by Rick Hoffman) ready for a different kind of vacation experience. Paxton is trying to figure out how to escape from the murderous-torture-house, but Hoffman assumes Paxton is another client of said murderous-torture house and begins a discussion about the pleasures of murder and the relative merits of different sorts of death.

Hoffman is a torture-virgin, and he isn't sure how best to begin his blood-soaked journey. Their discussion becomes a sort of parody of all things hyper-masculine, as Hoffman postures and poses, coming across exactly like a fraternity boy discussing various sexual positions. Violence is sexualized, and in this film, Eli Roth levels a powerful indictment at a particular type of personality, in which the conquest, and the quest for power, overrides all other considerations: a self-centered, media-obsessed, culturally-savvy breed of exceedingly banal evil. There's something very American Psycho about this brand of killer.

Except Rick Hoffman is no Christian Bale. That much the worse for him.

Anyway, my point is that Hostel was extreme horror with a point, and with good cinematography, and with excellent gore. It was disturbing, affecting, and well-done (or, rather, if we're going with a steak metaphor, quite rare. Steak Tartar.). Turistas is none of those things.

It does have a similar plot device, noted above. To give more specifics: a group of young people end up trapped in the wilds of Brazil, led astray by some nefarious foreign folks. Turns out, one local doctor has become sick of the American practice of flying to Brazil to use their American riches to buy poor Brazilian people's organs; since the waiting list in America is so long, many fly to a place where the rules aren't so strict, and where money can buy life. The doctor, Zamora, wants to even the scales by stealing rich American organs to give to poor Brazilians.

So, you could say, this movie is trying to make a point. It's not a bad point. But once you put it in the mouth of a raving, murderous loon, and give it a total of two minutes of screen time, it gets overshadowed.

Back to the plot: the movie starts with the tourists discovering an extra-fun local bar, full of booze and loose women (as all bars are in South America, dontcha know?). Unfortunately, they get robbed -- their passports stolen, their money, the whole twelve yards. To recover their loot, they get led on a wild goose chase that ends at their buddy, Dr. Zamora. Zamora harvests one girl's organs (with some mildly entertaining gore shots), before the remainder of our group escapes. The rest of their movie is their attempt to avoid capture, but it features no entertaining deaths or particularly suspenseful moments and comes across more like a car-chase sequence than a horror film.

This, however, isn't a totally unmitigated parade of suck-itude. The acting is fine; the murder in the middle is reasonably entertaining; the scenery is gorgeous. All the actors are reasonably attractive. For the male members of the audience, there are some breast shots. The message of the film is interesting, if underdeveloped. And it's high time for an organ-stealing horror movie: why hasn't this been fully capitalized on yet?

But, for horror fans -- or even for fans of non-craptacular movies -- this is a lot of exposition and a lot of conclusion for very little payoff. It'd largely be a waste of your time.

Unless Rick Hoffman will torture you if you don't go. Then Turistas might be a better choice.

RevStaff Writer Laura Eldred might just come to your house and torture you if you do go see Turistas. So, the question you need to ask yourself is: Who’s scarier? Rick Hoffman or Laura?

 
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