Don’t leave home for ‘Turistas’

Hollywood is and always will be cyclical in nature. Film studios often attempt to cash in on the latest trends in film, and no genre is more accustomed to this than horror.

Just as Scream re-energized the slasher film in 1996, last year’s massive hit Hostel has proven the popularity of gritty, supremely gory “torture films,” earning 10 times its budget during its theatrical run. Inevitably, when a surprise hit emerges, imitators ultimately follow, hoping to duplicate the initial success.

Opening Friday, Turistas, undoubtedly the first of many Hostel knockoffs, is hoping to capitalize on the built-in audience for this type of film, and so it deviates little from the formula laid out by its predecessors.

The plot, which follows a group of young travelers on vacation in Brazil, is plodding and predictable as the film’s main characters unwittingly wander into dangerous territory in search of a good time. Sound familiar?

After a near-fatal bus crash, a few tourists (or turistas) wander off to find a beach teeming with beautiful people and cheap drinks. However, while the typical fan would expect trouble to start soon thereafter, the horrifying motives of the group’s pursuers are not revealed until nearly the end of the film.

Right from the outset, Turistas makes it clear that its heroes are headed for trouble, and yet it takes nearly two-thirds of the film’s 89-minute running time for anything significant to happen.

Although a few sequences feature extreme gore, bloodthirsty horror fans will be disappointed by brevity. The majority of the film follows the characters as they journey from one place to the next, hoping to find sanctuary from the strange and perilous situation they have stumbled into. The results are uninspired, uninteresting and tedious.

The film’s hero, Josh Duhamel of TV’s Las Vegas, certainly has potential as a leading man, but his role is so underdeveloped that it doesn’t amount to much. Duhamel has a few heroic moments, but on the whole, his character is just as cookie-cutter as the rest of the film. Likewise, Melissa George and Olivia Wilde give respectable but unremarkable performances as Turistas‘ two female leads.

Unlike recent horror blockbusters such as The Descent and the Saw films, Turistas lacks ambition and stylistic flair. Its plot, characters and “scares” are paper-thin and hollow.

While some horror films manage to transcend the genre’s numerous clichés, Turistas relies on them. The film breaks no new ground, and its retreading of familiar conventions only reveals how truly mundane the movie is. The film is substandard in virtually every way and contributes nothing to the genre.

Rather, Turistas is content to coast along on the success of preceding films in an effort to dupe audiences, like its main characters, into expecting a good time.

Turistas does succeed in one respect, however. Its promotional campaign urges viewers to “Go Home.” Wise advice. Audiences searching for a scare are better off staying in and checking out one of the many films that Turistas aspires (and fails) to be.

• Grade: C-