Yanks vacationing way South-of-the-border face a fate far worse than stomach cramps and diarrhea in "Turistas." This "Hostel"-with-a-tan-line is sure to soak up some counter-programming cash in a seasonal marketplace currently short on horror fare. The unsavory effort will doubtless be Christmas trash soon enough, but ancillary life should raise its cast casualties from the dead for further monetary gain by Easter.

Yanks vacationing way South-of-the-border face a fate far worse than stomach cramps and diarrhea in “Turistas.” Indie pickup is first release for youth-slanted genre shingle Fox Atomic, and, with an advertising budget reportedly three times the pic’s $10 million production cost, this “Hostel”-with-a-tan-line is sure to soak up some counter-programming cash in a seasonal marketplace currently short on horror fare. The unsavory effort will doubtless be Christmas trash soon enough, but ancillary life should raise its cast casualties from the dead for further monetary gain by Easter.

The “Hostel” similarities may strike some as too close for comfort, not only in plot outline but also in general mix of xenophobia, sexploitation, sadism and gore. Like Eli Roth’s soon-to-be-sequelized hit, this knockoff is more icky than scary, with a rather obnoxious Ugly American as lead protagonist. Pic’s simple advice to viewers who might want to wander in the non-Michelin-Guided world: For god’s sake don’t do it! They hate us! Not only do those foreigners speak crazy non-speakee-English lingos, but half of them are crazies and sickos!! Anyone judging the U.S. by its movies — as millions do — will likely decide this latest horror trend makes us look pretty damn dumb.

After opening teaser of coming gory attractions, a rapid-fire credits montage encapsulates pic’s perspective on Latin America as Tantalizing Pleasures vs. Harrowing Squalor.

Bossy Alex (Josh Duhamel) has been dragged along to chaperone sister Bea (Olivia Wilde) and pal Amy (Beau Garrett) on their tour of off-the-beaten-path Brazil. The path at present is a winding coastal road which their bus driver careens along heedlessly.

When Alex yells at the lead footed driver, the girls tell him to shut up. But, moments later, they all barely escape before the vehicle totters off an embankment. They are told a replacement bus won’t arrive for hours.

Now joined by randy Brits Finn (Desmond Askew) and Liam (Max Brown), plus Portuguese-fluent Aussie Pru (Melissa George), the Yanks head for a nearby beach bar. Indeed, the beach proves so gorgeous they decide to miss their bus and stay overnight. Much revelry ensues, but next morning the friendly locals — along with the tourists’ luggage, cash and passports — are long gone. They look for help but inadvertently provoke nearby villagers and are urged by new buddy Kiko (Agles Steib) to scram into the jungle, where he’s got a “safe” house they can stay in until the next transit comes.

Natch, this house is a very long, isolated walk away. Upon arriving (after a pit stop to explore semi-submerged caves behind a waterfall), the visitors find suspicious items galore: Surveillance cameras, an excess of medical supplies, caged dogs, and a cache of tourist passports. Uh-oh. Then sinister Dr. Zamora (Miguel Lunardi) arrives by helicopter, and hints of a murderous organ-transplant trade prove true as, during the next 15 minutes (arriving almost exactly an hour in), the protags’ ranks thin rapidly.

Horror fans pleased by this turn may feel cheated when “Turistas” then spends its final quarter-hour back in the underwater caves, with a whole lotta anxious swimming rather than more horrific action. While this too is unpleasant (in a fear-of-drowning way), it’s more like a sequel to aquatic thriller “Into the Blue” (helmer John Stockwell’s last pic) than “Hostel” or even cave-bound chiller “The Descent.” Result is ultimately silly and forgettable.

Still, if it lacks “Hostel’s” distinctive sleaziness, “Turistas” does have one idea as offensive as anything in that gagfest: Zamora explains he yanks organs from (still-conscious) “gringo American tourists” and donates them to a Rio People’s Hospital in order to “even the scales” against First World imperialism. (Thanks for this tasteless “irony” should be addressed to first-time scenarist Michael Arlen Ross.)

Of course, Zamora later barks “You stupid Indian, do what I say, I OWN you!” at a dark-skinned flunky. No doubt Brazil (where pic was actually shot) will enjoy its depiction here just as much as the Czech Republic did “Hostel.”

Locations and widescreen lensing are attractive, tech aspects overall a cut above B-grade horror average. Cast is well-toned.

Turistas

Production

A 20th Century Fox release of a Fox Atomic and 2929 Prods. presentation of a Stone Village Pictures/Boz Prods. production. Produced by Scott Steindorff, Bo Zenga, Marc Butan, John Stockwell. Executive producers, Todd Wagner, Mark Cuban, Elaine Dysinger. Co-producer, Caique Martins Ferreira. Directed by John Stockwell. Screenplay, Michael Arlen Ross.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Enrique Chediak; editor, Jeff McEvoy; music, Paul Haslinger; music supervisor, David Falzone; production designer, Marlise Storchi; art director, Cecia Richters; sound (Dolby Digital), Jonathan Miller; underwater camera, Peter Zuccarini; assistant directors, Max Day, Dayse Amaral Dias; casting, Lisa Beach, Sarah Katzman. Reviewed at Westfield Century 9, San Francisco, Nov. 29, 2006. MPAA rating: R. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Alex - Josh Duhamel Pru - Melissa George Bea - Olivia Wilde Finn - Desmond Askew Amy - Beau Garrett Liam - Max Brown Kiko - Agles Steib Zamora - Miguel Lunardi

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