International anti-Americanism is fodder for horror

Turistas

on December 01, 2006 by Jay Antani
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The anti-Americanism that swept the world in response to our response to 9/11 has been a crackling subject matter for filmmakers of all stripes. In the realm of thrillers, Eli Roth rode the anti-American theme in Hostel, with grisly and profitable results, with a sequel forthcoming. Now it seems director John Stockwell and writer Michael Ross want to cash in, too, with Turistas.

Stockwell shifts the locale from Hostel 's central Europe to a remote corner of Brazil. But, as in Roth's precursor, the victims in Turistas are white American and European backpackers, and their victimizers are natives with pent-up grievances against el Gringo. The latter operate as a cabal of underground organ traders led by a Zamora (Miguel Lunardi), a sinister doctor who'll tend lovingly to a local child then turn around and impale an incompetent henchman with a wood skewer through the eye. This guy doesn't fool around.

After surviving a freak bus accident, all-American hunk Alex (Josh Duhamel), his cutie-pie sister Bea (Olivia Wilde) and Velveeta-blonde Amy (Beau Garrett), together with Australian hippie-chick Pru (Melissa George) and a pair of horny Brit lads (Desmond Askew and Max Brown) tramp through the jungle and find a pristine beach not far away. Outfitted with a beer bar, hot Brazilian chicks and a kicking stereo system, it's a mini-paradise for the travelers.

Their sweat-drenched euphoria is short-lived, though, because the next morning Alex and company discover they've been robbed. A chummy local boy, Kiko (Agles Steib), tells them their lives are in danger and whisks them deeper into the jungle, presumably to safety at a remote house. Owing to his erratic and diffident manner, it's clear that Kiko's hiding something, and what that is becomes clear when they arrive not at a secluded haven but a torture compound where Zamora does his slice-and-dice handiwork. Quickly, Zamora locks the kids up so that one by one he can scoop out their vital organs.

Disgusted by the relentless exploitation of his land and people by gringos, Zamora wants to exact revenge. What better way, he believes, to give back to his people, and flip off the West to boot, than by ripping out the livers and kidneys of turistas and donating it to the local needy. One doubts Zamora will be hosting many telethons in support of his cause. Zamora's is a righteous anger, to be sure, but, in Stockwell and Ross' hands, it's reduced to a crude plot device — the cog in the wheels of what is, ultimately, a formula picture.

With Kiko's help, Alex, Bea and Pru stage an escape from Zamora's clutches. Their ensuing flight takes them underwater in an extended, but generally well executed chase sequence through a watery system of caves and corridors. When the action gets up-close and frantic, Stockwell's coverage is wildly incoherent (the dark, rain-spattered environs doesn't help matters). But he knows how to build suspense, and his actors do a good job of projecting the requisite dread and panic. Sorely lacking in Turistas, though, are characters that amount to more than cardboard cutouts and a sense of humor — something that kept Hostel light and buoyant in spite of its morbid goings-on. Still, the cast is pleasing enough, and, in fashioning a thrill machine, Stockwell gets the job done. Distributor: Fox Atomic
Cast: Josh Duhamel, Melissa George, Olivia Wilde, Desmond Askew, Beau Garrett, Max Brown, Agles Steib and Miguel Lunardi
Director: John Stockwell
Screenwriter: Michael Ross
Producers: Marc Butan, Scott Steindorff, John Stockwell and Bo Zenga
Genre: Horror thriller
Rating: R for strong graphic violence and disturbing content, sexuality, nudity, drug use and language
Running time: 89 min.
Release date: December 1, 2006

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