Turistas (2006) / Adventure-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for strong graphic violence, disturbing content, sexuality, nudity, drug use, and language
Running Time: 94 min.

Cast: Josh Duhamel, Melissa George, Olivia Wilde, Desmond Askew, Beau Garrett, Max Brown, gles Steib, Miguel Lunardi
Director: John Stockwell
Screenplay: Michael Ross
Review published December 13, 2006

Like the old joke goes: If it's "tourist season", why can't we kill them?

Turistas is a film without an audience, which generally means, without a real reason to exist, unless you're the type that will watch and enjoy anything, provided there is enough exploitative blood, gore, and malice on display.  Although billed as a horror film, it isn't really one that fits well into that genre, despite the back story of killing people in order to extract their marketable organs.  Really, it plays out more like a hedonistic adventure-thriller, sporting a heavy dose of brutal violence, with an attractive cast and grisly dismemberments.  While not incompetently made, it is a fairly reprehensible idea for entertainment, and so disheartening at times, my enjoyment of the film pretty much dropped out from the very first scene -- a misguided scene of the horrible organ removal operation that ruins any surprises the film has in store.  From a storytelling point of view, the result is disastrous, and that pretty much sums up Turistas as a form of entertainment -- one distastefully-executed, poorly-developed narrative calamity after another.

The film is about a group of vacationing backpackers traveling through Brazil, who find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere when their bus breaks down.  It will be many hours before another bus arrives to pick them up, but they do find a small, secluded beachside town nearby to spend some time while they wait.  They become enamored of the beauty and atmosphere of the place and decide to stick around, partying until dawn, only to find all of their possessions stolen when they wake up.  Without passports, identity, or any money to make it, things seem like they couldn't possibly get any worse.  Well, they could -- it seems that a local gangster plans to round these tourists up in order to extract their organs for medical use, exploiting the "gringos" that have been exploiting them for years.

I'm truly uncertain what the point of the entire film is, as it seems to be a very straightforward thriller that has no real hook, save to be violent, bloody and "shocking".  While it certainly is violent, there really isn't anything else the film can claim in terms of appeal.  As sickening as the intent of the bad guys plays out, it's just not enough to make a film out of.  Like so many films of late, Turistas is all about the sensory stimulation, trying to reel us in with the hot bodies of the young men and women of the island, the sensationalism of the drug and drink party displays, finishing the last half with disturbingly graphic moments of sadistic torture and cruelty.

Reportedly, many people in Brazil are outraged at the stereotypes and false depictions of their country, and for good reason.  It's certainly a nightmare for the tourism industry if people think this is what goes on there on a daily basis.  Stars of the film have even felt the need to openly apologize to the people of Brazil for the way they are depicted throughout.  Perhaps a fictional South American country would have sufficed, as the people too stupid to realize Brazil isn't remotely like the country shown in the film would also be too stupid to recognize a made-up country as well.

John Stockwell (Into the Blue, Blue Crush) has become a director of note for making sexy thrillers in and around water, and when the film goes into the water, he certainly feels more comfortable.  Unfortunately, the film isn't about a water escape so much as a filthy exercise in exploitation, like some episode of "Survivor" if the contestants faced a band of blood-thirsty killers to contend with.   Stockwell does a decent job in the direction, but it's the story itself that is the true failure -- this is truly a film that should never have been made on many levels.  The script by Michael Ross is nearly identical to his previous film, Wrong Turn, where another six outsiders are stranded, fighting for survival, hunted down by cannibalistic West Virginians.  It didn't work then, it doesn't work now. 

Turistas is the first release by Fox under their "Atomic" division, which is supposedly aimed at attracting younger audiences.  If this is what they think the youth of the world want to see, I fear for our future as a civilization, as this film was made with the attitude that wanton carnage and graphic sadism are all it takes to get young viewers into the seats and to entertain them.  Without any real hook, and without characters we can care about, there really isn't anything remotely scary about the film from a suspense or horror standpoint. 

After this excursion into bad filmmaking, I'm reminded of a wise old proverb which states, "Visits always give pleasure; if not the arrival, the departure."   Turistas end credits couldn't come soon enough.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo