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MOVIE REVIEW

'Turistas' is more splash than slash

So let's see. You're in the hinterlands of Brazil, and the bus you've been on for hours just toppled over the side of a hill. It'll be at least another half a day until the next one comes. But you see a pair of girls walking down the road sipping fruity drinks, and, forgetting that you're stranded but not that you're on vacation, you hike for your own fruity drink. Back home you'd go to a Jamba Juice, but here you turn up a cabaña next to a shimmering oasis.

The beer is plentiful and the hip-hop seductive, so you, your cute sister, her hot blond friend, some Australian chick (obligatorily in cornrows, but crucially a Portuguese speaker), and two mates from London (one far more exasperating than the other) drink and dance. But when you wake up the next day, someone's run off with everything, including your group's common sense.

Through jungles and shantytowns, you drift wet and shoeless, without a clue that the friendly local who came to your rescue after one of the Brits hit a kid with a rock is leading you to a fate worse than any Brazilian wax. Yet in spite of the oncoming doom (even the hawks circling above know what's up), you simply cannot pass up the opportunity to jump in a big blue lake. Forget imminent death -- look, a waterfall!

No, despite what the previews promise and what the cast of young white hotties you've mostly never heard of before would lead one to expect (TV's Josh Duhamel being excused), "Turistas" is not a slasher film -- not conventionally. Released by Fox's new teen division, it's the latest aquatic titillation from John Stockwell, the man who also brought us "Blue Crush" and the shockingly good "Into the Blue."

Stockwell has no use for cheap scares and bloodbaths. It's possible that Michael Arlen Ross wrote this script aiming for a queasy Yanks-abroad exploitation picture, one akin to last year's "Hostel." Instead, he gets an exploitation flick closer to MTV's "Real World/Road Rules Challenge": skin, shouting, swimming.

"Turistas" has only hints of the unforeseen soulfulness of "Into the Blue." Jessica Alba, Paul Walker, and Scott Caan cut sexily through that thriller's Caribbean Sea like gym-toned merpeople. "Turistas" is at least absorbing and only sometimes beyond the pale. Sure, Brazil's endless caste tensions provide a sort of deus ex machina, but the villain is one of those cerebral sadists who enjoys prattling away while he cuts. And Stockwell demonstrates an unsettling interest in the stomach-turning -- staples to a gash, wood skewers to the eye -- like a man desperate to score with the Fangoria crowd.

Naturally, his moviemaking only comes truly alive when water's added, which is good news for the suspenseful undersea climax that comes after a long tropical downpour. H2O, for Stockwell, promises an entirely other universe, a dimension that's beautiful, obviously, but ominous, too. With "Turistas," he's stuck with a silly plot and characters that make you sometimes wish the movie were a cheap slasher picture after all. But water here makes even these endangered mannequins seem worth saving.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/movies/blog.

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