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click to enlarge Its all fun and games, as they say, until someone puts - the ice luge into the wrong hands.
  • Its all fun and games, as they say, until someone puts the ice luge into the wrong hands.

*Turistas (R)

Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown
Halloween has come and gone. So, too, has Saw III, this fall's biggest horror flick.

Still, 20th Century Fox is banking on the proposition that the horror niche has some leftover wiggle room in it. Enter Turistas, the first release from the studio's new teen-oriented genre label, Fox Atomic. It turns out the bigwigs might be right; the new thriller from director John Stockwell is surprisingly effective and revolves around a startlingly plausible scenario.

The premise is classic enough: A bus full of tourists on vacation in Brazil careens off the road, turning onto its side, and, rather than waiting hours for the next bus, a few 20-something backpackers decide to explore the tropical paradise they find themselves stuck in. Bare bodies bouncing and bonding on a beautiful beach is nothing new for Stockwell (Into the Blue), but the screenplay by Michael Ross takes a dark turn when the drinking and dancing turns to drugging and danger. The characters awake from their collective haze missing phones, wallets, passports and shoes.

After the expected clash of cultures with the locals, the gang is assisted by a local teen named Kiko (Agles Steib), who helps the stranded tourists navigate the jungle. Naively, they follow Kiko's lead deep into an un-policed rainforest, only to learn they were brought to this very specific place for a very specific purpose: organ "donation." Once the gravity of their situation is made clear, and the villain has finished his all-too-familiar explanation, the gore is served up la mode in some intense surgical sequences that aren't for the faint of heart.

Of course, anyone familiar with the urban legend about waking up in a bathtub full of ice and missing a kidney will have a good idea of the horrors that await our Anglo heroes. So credit Stockwell's tight, edgy direction for keeping the pedestrian story and cardboard characters moving.

Indeed, the film's main flaw is that we don't care a lick about its characters, which are little more than thinly written archetypes. Josh Duhamel, who does very little leading as the film's leading man, may be the worst culprit of this, thanks to his bland portrayal of a pretty boy. The film's femme fatales (Melissa George and Olivia Wilde) are equally as drab, doing little to distinguish themselves from one another.

Still, they admirably provide what the audience expects from them which is, well, nudity in a refreshing and appreciated nod to the '80s splatter pictures. Kiko's character is the one actually responsible for pushing the story forward to its logically bloody conclusion.

Despite the dire lack of characterization, Turistas has it all: sex, action, gore and, thanks to comic relief from Desmond Askew, a sense of humor, too. Plus, the unique setting and daytime action sequences make Turistas stand out amongst its earnest, torture-centric competitors.

As it stands, it isn't going to revolutionize the horror genre but it's a promising sign of things to come from upstart Fox Atomic, which has sequels to 28 Days Later and The Hills Have Eyes planned for release next year.

If Duhamel's character had just gotten his hands dirty earlier, Turistas might have made for a real holiday treat. Instead, it's just a bloody good time.

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