[Screen It]

(2003) (Alan Taylor, Laura Ramsey) (R)

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Drama: During spring break in Cancun, Mexico, sixteen partygoers spend eight days partying, drinking and pairing up, all as six camera crews capture everything.
It's spring break in Cancun, Mexico and various young people have arrived for eight days and nights of partying. Among them are 21-year-old Sara and her new friend Matt, who bond over a jellyfish incident. 18-year-old Alan is from Texas and has never had a drink, but that's sure to change. Identical twins Nicole and Roxanne aren't anywhere as inhibited and perform in a dual wet T-shirt contest.

21-year-old Paul is drawn to community college student Sky, while his friend Jorell enjoys hanging out with Alan and Jeremy, a 22-year-old business-marketing graduate who's similarly enticed by the hordes of scantily clad women surrounding them, such as 20-year-old Laura.

Then there are friends Heidi and David who've never "hooked up," 25-year-old model Casey, biochemistry major Brittany, 20-year-old management major Ben, and sex columnist Amber. As the week of partying wears on, they and the rest of the revelers pursue their various goals of sun, fun, sex, drinking and more.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
Once upon a time, movies were more about making art than money, although the latter was obviously an important and integral aspect of the process. Since the mid-1970s, however, when the blockbuster film first arrived, many studios have been more concerned with generating revenue than in telling a well-told tale. The more sales any given film can make - be it in theatrical release or once on home video - the more attractive it is to produce.

That meant, of course, that studios entered into a cinematic arms race of sorts where they threw obscene amounts of money onto the screen to make their offerings more attractive and thus hopefully make more money. More often than not, that usually backfired and resulted in huge losses. Every now and then, however, an inexpensive little film would come along and make beaucoup dinero, such as "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (which is sure to inspire other such copycat ethnic romantic comedies).

Yet, those films still need luck to succeed as well as some sort of talent in front of and behind the camera to make them work. How then to eliminate all or part of that dilemma and keep the costs down? Why, copy what's swept over much of broadcast TV, namely "reality" programming. After all, shows such as "The Real World" and all of those dating programs are quick and cheap to produce, and the American public seems to love them.

With the surprising financial success of the big screen version of "Jackass," I had a feeling such "reality" programming would swarm over the cinema just as it did with TV. My fears have now been confirmed with "The Real Cancun," a raunchy, no holds barred look at spring break in the Mexican resort town.

Thoughtfully brought to you by Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray, the same folks who created MTV's "The Real World" and its follow-up show, "Road Rules," the film follows a group of young exhibitionists and partygoers culled from nationwide campus calls. The sixteen major players are presumably all amateurs, but as with such "reality" programming, one has to question how much is real versus staged or at least manipulated to some degree.

The film was reportedly shot in just a few weeks and only one month before its actual nationwide release (which is heretofore unheard of in the movie world where post-production usually takes months if not years to complete). With six camera crews following the youngsters through eight days of spring break trials and tribulations, director Rick De Oliveira (TV's "The Girl Next Door: The Search for a Playboy Playmate" and various reality TV episodes) obviously had plenty of material from which to choose. Yet, to call this a "movie" is a slap in the face of all cinematic offerings that have come before it.

In essence, it's just an R-rated version of a beach setting season of "The Real World" where the language isn't bleeped out and bare breasts aren't digitized into a pixilated blur. While I've never seen the actual product, I imagine the "Girls Gone Wild" home video series is also about the same, or at least a kissing cousin to what's offered here.

Speaking of kissing, and considering the raging hormones of the participants as well as the target audience, there's plenty of hanky-panky as well as talk thereof and plenty of "hard bodies" present as eye candy. In keeping with the "Real World" feel, there are also numerous pairings, rushed romance and some broken hearts. Hand in hand with that is the copious alcohol consumption, all of which should have parents freaking out upon seeing what really goes on during such "vacation."

The question that remains, at least from a critical standpoint (which is something of an oxymoron considering the subject) is whether any of it's remotely entertaining, engaging or intriguing, outside of the voyeur aspect for those who enjoy such shows and/or are simply interested in ogling young and tanned bodies.

After all, there's no script (or at least nothing credited to an actual writer), so it's up to De Oliveira, editor Ben Salter (TV's "The Real World" and "Playboy's Search For a Centerfold") and the exploits of the participants to generate some sort of interest.

The most obvious element is who will pair off with whom, but even that gets old after a while (especially to those of us who don't thrive on this sort of "entertainment"). I found the transformation of Alan - the young and shy guy who can't get a date and has never had a drink in his life - into a raving party animal to be the most engaging and yes, even somewhat entertaining in a car crash sort of way.

That said, I couldn't help but feel that his change was staged to some degree or at least helped along by the filmmakers. That's particularly true since they occasionally edit and/or add sound effects to the footage to get across whatever point and/or emotion they're trying to push on the viewer.

With its 90 some minute setting, the effort also fails to connect with the viewer as much or as well as the similar TV shows do since they can present their "characters" and their trials and tribulations, week after week, soap opera fashion, and thus cast a hypnotic spell over the audience.

Overall, the film loses some points simply for being the start of what could be a really bad trend in moviemaking. Those who used to fear that computer-generated performers would eventually replace the real thing should be far more worried about these cheaper, quicker and easier to produce movies that could soon swarm over the cinema, just as their TV counterparts have done on the small screen, and eliminate the need for actors as well as screenwriters and even real directors.

Had the film been done as a straight but informative documentary, or even a well-thought out spoof of one, this could have been a satisfactory and maybe even an entertaining experience. Instead, it's just an exploitative piece of low-ball, high profit movie making that's not as titillating as some might be expecting and not very good beyond all of that. "The Real Cancun" rates as a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed April 25, 2003 / Posted April 25, 2003

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