The makers and backers of “Tequila Body Shots” should plan to drown their sorrows in something strong and warm once their pic stumbles out into the harsh daylight of a theatrical run. The kind of hapless effort that would usually not even qualify for cablecast, this supposed horror-laff riot manifests the worst — and even borderline ethno-racist — nightmares held by young Americans as they go south for serious partying in Mexico. Rookie helmer-scribe Tony Shyu’s every last fear of getting stuck with Mexican nasties is amateurishly thrown up on the screen, with nothing sticking. One of the sorriest “Scream” wannabes to date, and yet somehow able to scrounge up domestic (Heartland Releasing) and worldwide (Soho Entertainment Inc.) distribution, “Tequila” will go down quickly in theatrical despite the top billing of pop star Joey Lawrence, with marginal chances of collecting some loose change from clueless young video consumers desperate for a latenight scare.
The film’s micro budget is visibly evident from frame one, as the good-natured yet portentously named Johnny Orpheus (Lawrence) and his fellow film school pals Paul (Nathan Anderson) and Al (Josh Marchette) turn up at a poor excuse for an outdoor dance party. Paul and Al, invariably on the prowl for women, booze and a good time, convince the reluctant Johnny to attend a Day of the Dead party at Mexico’s Rosaferno Beach (the hellishly weak pun is an indicator of Shyu’s feeble script humor).
Initial couple of reels endlessly repeat the same cycle of gags and encounters, with the entry of obnoxious “Star Wars” geek Ted (the googly-eyed Robert Patrick Benedict) and three single gals — sweet Tamlyn (Dru Mouser), horny Angela (Jennifer Lyons) and cynical Linda (Senta Moses) — at a later party that looks suspiciously like the party in the intro scene.
Once in Mexico, Johnny is convinced by a medicine man named Doc to try a potion to get the woman of his dreams. The potion provides Johnny with the power to read women’s thoughts, with a disastrous side effect of being able to see the violent, military-garbed spirit of dead lover Hector (Rene L. Moreno), who once loved a woman named Carlotta and wants her with him in the afterlife. Further ham-fisted plotting leads Johnny to fight simultaneous battles in the flesh and in the spirit world.
Shyu scarcely allows in the kind of subversive humor this material is — ahem — screaming out for, resulting in a self-destructively lethargic rhythm that gives audiences far too much time to ponder the nonsense, particularly the limp retelling of the Orpheus myth, with Tamlyn subbing as Eurydice. The climax (shot in processed color), set on a Mexican version of the River Styx, looks like the kind of bad student movie that Johnny and friends are forced to sit through in school. Even the gross-out violence and spicy sex that is de rigeur for the genre is toned down, thus eliminating the project’s primary commercial hook.
Lawrence plays the nice guy with such ease that there’s no energy coming off the screen — a kind of no-calorie charisma. Mouser is just as bland. Sidekick Anderson goes too far the other way, with nothing but attitude that plays like a slavish impersonation of Jack Nicholson. Benedict and Merchette suggest comic potential if put in the right directorial hands. Saddest of all is Darrow, a credible medicine man but an actor much too strong to be reduced to this assignment.
Never has the visually rich Day of the Dead looked so anemic, with tech credits — especially final reel effects — far below average.