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December 1, 2006 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | December 1, 2006 |

Turistas follows an increasingly mainstream horror trend toward what’s being called “torture-porn” — or the special focus on torturing and dismembering victims in a methodical (often medical) way as the camera leers. This kind of borderline snuff isn’t old, but its prominence in bigger films like last year’s Hostel and Wolf Creek does make it seem unusually popular. I’m at a loss for the faux-genre’s newfound popularity, as the subject’s sick conceit usually relegates it to obscurity. Regardless, the provocation that torture-porn intends doesn’t make much of a difference when the direction and writing are as inept as they are in Turistas.

Actually, Hostel is a good basis of comparison, since it utilizes the same xenophobia and misogyny as vehicles for the same plot: American tourists (and other white folks) are beset by locals in a nasty conspiracy. This particular troupe is lead by alpha-dumbass Alex (Josh Duhamel) who, along with sister Bea (Olivia Wilde) and her friend, are traipsing through Brazil on vacation. After a bus accident strands them in a remote area, they link up with a Portuguese-speaking Aussie (Melissa George, who looks bizarrely similar to Olivia d’Abo), and a couple of Brits to go explore the local scene. All promptly begin indulging in an orgy of hedonistic sex, booze, and dancing by the beach. But hey, that’s what they were here for, right?

Well, the next morning the whole party awakes to find that they’re been drugged and robbed of all their possessions. They wander into town, where the locals either mewl stupidly or are openly hostile. One supposedly helpful lad agrees to take them to his “uncle’s” house, only accessible via a 10-hour scenic hike through the rainforest. It turns out that the guy is Zamora (Miguel Lunardi), a doctor who preys on Western tourists and harvests their organs for transplant to needy Brazilians. How noble. Zamora’s reason — that wealthy tourists are victimizing Brazil in various manners — might seem tenable, but his character is never presented as anything other than an asshole and a murderer (he kills one of his compatriots with a Popsicle stick for no discernible reason).

A good two-thirds of Turistas is clunky exposition until our poor subjects are dissected and hunted by the good doctor and his pals, but the “payoff” is also lacking in every regard. Those titillated by the thought of boobs and violence will be disappointed, since both appear in small and uninteresting quantities (“Do you guys mind if I go topless?” Bollocks!). The torture sequence isn’t even that, as the victim is heavily anesthetized and dissected in non-gruesome manner by a doctor. In addition, the tourists’ escape and battle with the bad guys assumes remarkable degrees of banality, seeing as no one has been given reason to care about anyone here — bad or good, and then ends in such an anticlimactic and ridiculous fashion that it’s a complete failure as a thriller.

So, Turistas really isn’t worth the effort as either a throwaway suspense film or a look at Third World/tourist relations. The movie’s conceit — that an entire community of people would willingly participate in the murder and organ-harvesting of a bunch of tourists (even these daft idiots) — is confounding and the protagonists come across as equally stereotyped pleasure-seekers whose presence is an excuse to bare flesh. I sincerely hope that even the dumbest and most jaded of filmgoers won’t be lured by a pretense as stupid as that. If they are — well, the movie itself sucks too.

Phillip Stephens is the lead critic for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR.

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Turistas / Phillip Stephens

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