"CHERNOBYL DIARIES" (2012) (Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski) (R)
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The following is an unedited version of our final review that may contain spelling, grammatical, and/or factual errors. Warner Bros. did not screen this film in advance for reviewers until 4 hours before it opened to the public.
Horror: Six young vacationers must contend with unexpected developments and dire dangers when they hire an extreme tour guide to take them to the long-deserted city that once housed workers from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor.
Paul (JONATHAN SADOWSKI) and Chris (JESSE MCCARTNEY) are brothers traveling through Europe on vacation with Chris' steady girlfriend, Natalie (OLIVIA TAYLOR DUDLEY), and her best friend, Amanda (DEVIN KELLEY). They're having a great time, but Paul calls an audible by suggesting they go on an extreme tour of Prypiat, the long-abandoned city that once served as home for the workers at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor plan before its deadly accident in the 1980s.
Chris is reluctant, but when the young women side with Paul, he goes along and they meet their tour guide, Uri (DIMITRI DIATCHENKO), as well as another young couple, Michael (NATHAN PHILLIPS) and Zoe (INGRID BOLSO BERDAL), who joins them. Soon, Uri is driving the six young vacationers into the ghost city for a quick look around before exposure to the still lingering radiation becomes an issue. Their bigger concern, however, is when Uri's van won't start and he can't contact anyone on his radio.
When they hear noises at night and he goes to check on them, the group's impromptu vacation detour turns into a matter of life and death for all as they must contend with unexpected dangers in both the dark of night and buildings that no longer have any electricity.
OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Our reviewing policy for films that aren't shown in advance to critics (or are done so late the night before they open) is that we'll only provide a paragraph or two about the film's artistic merits or, more accurately, lack thereof. After all, life is too short to spend any more effort than that on a movie that even the releasing studio knows isn't any good (which is why they hid it from reviewers before its release).
Many a movie monster has been spawned due to some after-effect of exposure to radiation. With that in mind, and if one is going to go down that Geiger counter happy route, why not head directly to the related ground zero location for the highest dose and thus - hopefully - the best monster(s).
That locale, of course, would be the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine that exploded and released enormous amounts of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere back in 1986. Rather than set the film there, however, the filmmakers - visual effects supervisor turned first-time director Bradley Parker and screenwriters Oren Peli (who directed "Paranormal Activity") and Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke- place most of the action in the nearby ghost town of Prypiat, the former home of workers at the plant.
The result is akin to pretty much any horror flick (or a group version of "I Am Legend") where young people enter spooky places and are picked off one by one. They're barely personified, and while the filmmakers do generate a few spooky moments and some decent jump scenes, we never really care about the characters, their plight, or the order in which they'll become tender vittles.
Considering all the radiation, I was hoping for a surprise cameo by Godzilla or one of his radioactive friends. Alas, that never transpires, meaning all we're left with is more of the same old, same old, young person cinematic meat grinder. And there's nothing glowing about that. "Chernobyl Diaries" rates as a 4 out of 10.