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Honey, cancel our vaction

“Turistas”Fox AtomicDirected by John StockwellWritten by Michael Arlen RossStarring: Josh Duhamel, Melissa George, Olivia Wilde, Desmond Askew, Beau Garrett, Max Brown, Agles Steib and Miguel LunardiRated R/89 minutesOpens Dec. 1, 2006Two out of fours stars

What is a better way to ring in the holiday season than to watch a gorgeous, bathing-suit beauty have her organs surgically (and involuntarily) removed while she lies flat on her back, still twitching with life? ‘Tis the season for giving, after all.

Oh, there are much better ways to build a jolly mood than to watch “Turistas,” an oddly non-seasonal horror film that seems to have wandered away from October and collapsed, wheezing, in the frosty month of December. Take the advice of the movie’s refreshingly honest tagline–“Go home!”–and do something worthwhile. Build a snowman, clean the lint off your jacket, candy-coat Milk-Bones for your dog’s stocking. I could go on.

Of course, a good movie is a good movie any time of the year–gory flicks included. Sometimes watching a bad guy whack the fingers off a beach bum with a rusty machete is just the anti-serum I need after ingesting too many poisonously sweet movies starring elves, reindeer and Tim Allen.

But “Turistas” is not good, though it has the right ingredients: an exotic locale (Brazil) far removed from our single-digit temperatures, a cast of airbrushed hotties who look like they should be tossing leaves at one another in an American Eagle advertisement and a nice spin on the urban legend about the knocked-out hitchhiker who wakes up in a bathtub full of ice with a crudely-stitched incision on his side. Too bad this film also has a crudely stitched incision around the circumference of its head where its brain was removed.

The very likable Josh Duhamel (he’s hunky, but not irresponsible about it) plays Alex–older brother and chaperone to little sister, Bea (Olivia Wilde, saddled with a character name that I can’t help but associate with Bea Arthur). They’re on an extreme vacation in Brazil, which involves insane bus drivers, horny British tourists (Desmond Askew and Max Brown) and an ominously beautiful and remote beach paradise that inevitably requires the token sexpot girl to announce to her friends, “I left my bra in the bus. Do you guys mind if I go topless?”

No, not at all.

These scenes are inter-cut with scenes of a sinister doctor (Miguel Lunardi), who has sinister plans for the “gringos” on the beach. One of his henchmen goofs up, so the doctor jams a pineapple skewer into said henchman’s eye. Good help is so hard to find these days.

I wish director John Stockwell had held off from revealing the evil doctor until later in the movie, when the stranded Alex, Bea and their disposable friends are unwittingly led to the doctor’s jungle getaway/organ-harvesting torture chamber. If we had discovered the horror at the same time as the oblivious turistas, the surprise might have been a nice kick. Alas, Stockwell and his screenwriter Michael Arlen Ross aren’t that subtle, especially during the doctor’s lengthy monologue that explains why he does what he does. And the fact that he’s explaining this to the barely conscious sexpot girl while she’s tied down to the operating table with her stomach cavity flayed open doesn’t exactly add to the movie’s credibility. Does the doctor explain his motives to every helpless, sobbing, mutilated tourist that crosses his table? Maybe he should tape record it and mix it in with some pleasant muzak that he could play over the speaker system to soothe his prey.

The movie ends, or never seems to, with a claustrophobic chase through an underwater cave, which brought to mind Stockwell’s last movie, the trashy but sadly undervalued “Into the Blue,” starring Jessica Alba in an itsy-bitsy bikini…and that’s all I remember. At least that movie’s Maxim-ized story continued to develop until the end. “Turistas'” runs out of ideas about 30 minutes in, and that’s when I started booking plans in my head for my own vacation.

“Guys, we are so hot. Somebody brand me with that word. Hot. Like a stovetop or something.” Josh Duhamel muses loudly in “Turistas.”

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