Vacation in Hell” marks a less than triumphant feature comeback for veteran Italian producer Enzo Gallo and director Tonino Valerii, the former Sergio Leone assistant who made his name with Westerns like “My Name Is Nobody” and other genre pics of the ’70s. This abysmal concoction of prison-movie cliches set in a nightmarish Thai lockup has neither dramatic tension, character development nor narrative flow. Name cast appears to have been assembled with an eye on international markets, but their efforts likely will languish in video bargain bins.
There may be a meaty drama to be drawn from the streams of Italian heroin arrests in Asia in recent decades, but it sure isn’t this torpid yarn. Frustrated by his lack of job prospects, honest Angelo (Marco Leonardi) jumps at an offer from a slick acquaintance, Luciano (Alessandro Zamattio), to assist in a video assignment in Bangkok. There, Luciano scores $ 10,000 worth of heroin, which he stashes in the video camera for the unwitting Angelo to carry through customs.
Nabbed at the airport, Angelo is tossed into a rat-infested cell and falls prey to disreputable lawyer Ortega (Giancarlo Giannini). Sentenced to 32 years, Angelo lands in a tough prison run by arch sadists. When the intervention of an Italian Embassy babe (an inauspicious debut by former Miss Italy Mirca Viola) proves ineffectual, he turns to fellow prisoner Belisario (F. Murray Abraham), who has an escape plan and a score to settle with Ortega.
Little that’s onscreen is convincing, least of all the Italian prison structures and distinctly European wooded locations meant to pass for Southeast Asia. Among unintentional laughs is the arrival of a supposedly Bangkok cop car with “Manila’s Finest” emblazoned across its doors; many of the genuine Bangkok city exteriors were shot on poorly integrated 16mm. Thesps take a stab at enlivening the lame material, but the understandable lack of conviction inevitably takes its toll.