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The Ruins

Americans, stay home! If the offshore terrorists, organ harvesters, torture-tourism entrepreneurs or angry ghosts don’t get you, plant life just might. That last, latest spin on current horror conventions arrives via “The Ruins.”

Cast:
Jeff - Jonathan Tucker Amy - Jena Malone Eric - Shawn Ashmore Stacy - Laura Ramsey Mathias - Joe Anderson Dimitri - Dimitri Baveas Lead Mayan - Sergio Calderon

Americans, stay home! If the offshore terrorists, organ harvesters, torture-tourism entrepreneurs or angry ghosts don’t get you, plant life just might. That last, latest spin on current horror conventions arrives via “The Ruins.” Ultimately less dependent on suspense or even scares than on squirm-inducing grossouts, this tale of Yank hardbodies vs. carnivorous creepers should flower briefly in hardtops, then spread like an invasive weed in ancillary.

Scenarist Scott B. Smith’s adaptation of his own novel reverses the results of his first such effort. While 1998’s Sam Raimi-helmed “A Simple Plan” elevated its source material, “Ruins” — though decently directed by feature debutant Carter Smith — only renders the same more genre-generic. Opening reel is indistinguishable from that of “Turistas,” as two post-collegiate American couples vacationing at a seaside Mexican resort mull the predictably fatal offer of a day trip to an inland spot “not in the guidebooks.”

Invite hails from German Mathias (Joe Anderson), eager to rejoin his brother, who abandoned him for a cute female archaeologist exploring an ancient Mayan ruin.

Eric (Shawn Ashmore) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey) are both game, Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) even moreso, although Jeff’s annoying-brat g.f. Amy (Jena Malone) isn’t at all intrigued by this lucky cultural-historical break. Nonetheless, the variably hung-over travelers drag themselves onto a local bus the next morning, joined by youthful Greek Dimitri (Dimitri Baveas).

After scrambling up a hidden trail to reach the impressive temple ruins, they’re immediately surrounded by armed local Mayans who seem very riled over some offense the tourists have already committed. This immediately results in one death, and in the others’ forced scurrying up the vine-covered pyramidic structure to apparent safety.

There, they discover evidence of the archaeologists’ recent occupation, but the people themselves are MIA. It’s only when Amy and Stacy attempt to retrieve a cell phone from a shaft below — their discovery of the ring tone’s source yields the tale’s creepiest twist — that protags realize the insane full extent of their predicament.

At this point, “The Ruins” abandons all hope that ye who enter here will experience any subtlety or real surprise. Instead, it leans on the “ewww” factor as characters have their bodies invaded by virulent vines and practice gruesome amateur surgery on themselves.

Squabbling among the skin-deep characters doesn’t induce much sympathy, though thesps do their best. The novel offered a certain psychological depth; not so the film, which comes off essentially as routine, conceptually silly horror content.

Tech/design aspects are accomplished, from Darius Khondji’s widescreen lensing to the eerie soundscape inclusive of Graeme Revell’s score.

The Ruins

Production: A DreamWorks-Paramount release of a DreamWorks Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment presentation of a Red Hour production. Produced by Stuart Cornfeld, Jeremy Kramer, Chris Bender. Executive producers, Ben Stiller, Trish Hofmann, Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum. Directed by Carter Smith. Screenplay, Scott B. Smith, from the novel by Smith.

Crew: Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Darius Khondji; editor, Jeff Betancourt; music, Graeme Revell; production designer, Grant Major; art director, Brian Edmonds; costume designer, Lizzy Gardiner; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), Paul Brincat; supervising sound editors, John Marquis, Sean McCormack; sound designer, Dorian Cheah; visual effects supervisor, Gregory L. McMurry; assistant director, Jamie Crooks; second unit director, Jeff Betancourt; casting, Denise Chamian. Reviewed at Sony Metreon, San Francisco, March 3, 2008. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 90 MIN.

With: Jeff - Jonathan Tucker Amy - Jena Malone Eric - Shawn Ashmore Stacy - Laura Ramsey Mathias - Joe Anderson Dimitri - Dimitri Baveas Lead Mayan - Sergio Calderon

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