Owen Gleiberman
May 02, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Real Cancun

Current Status
In Season
1 minutes
Wide Release Date
Rick De Oliveira
New Line Cinema

We gave it a B-

Here’s something you won’t be seeing soon on reality TV. In The Real Cancun, Roxanne and Nicole, a couple of 20-year-olds who happen to be blond and button-nosed identical twins, get up on the outdoor stage of a bar called Fat Joe’s to compete in a wet T-shirt contest. We’re in Cancun, Mexico, in the middle of that metaphysical time known as Spring Break (not a season, but a state of mind). It all looks familiar from nearly 20 years of sun-soaked MTV bacchanals, except that in this case the T-shirts get wet, the T-shirts come off, and, in a moment destined to tickle the hearts of adolescent boys everywhere, Roxanne and Nicole, in full view, grind their exposed selves into each other. When a scene as fundamentally pornographic as this one plays on 2,000 megaplex screens, can ”The Real Howard Stern Show: The Movie” be far behind?

Don’t get too excited: Most of ”The Real Cancun” isn’t nearly that salacious. It’s just a camcorder soap opera of packaged hormonal fervor — ”The Real World” with extra tequila body shots. Yet thanks to a strategic handful of exploitative tidbits, including surveillance-video footage of couples as they hump discreetly under the midnight covers, ”The Real Cancun” has the aura of something that pushes the reality envelope, and that’s its key selling point. Hey, kids, you won’t just stare at the babes and hunks — you’ll taste the sweat and margaritas! Of such marketing ploys are movie revolutions made.

The producers gathered 16 horny young folk to spend eight days in an ersatz-adobe beachfront villa. Getting trashed and hooking up are the only goals on the agenda, but the party antics are accompanied by an amusing stream of hypocritically innocuous ”relationship” chatter. At least one of the women is a virgin, or claims to be, and even the men don’t just want cheap, hot sex; they want meaningful cheap, hot sex. They want to trample their inhibitions with soul. It’s Club Med meets Prom Night.

The director, Rick De Oliveira, cut his chops directing episodes of ”The Real World,” and he knows just how to shape the hyped banality of coerced flirtation into neatly sanded episodic arcs. Watch Jeremy, the Brad Pitt look-alike, hit on one girl, then make out with another right in front of her. Watch Paul, the ladies’ man, work his magic on the gorgeous Sky, only to give up when she plays hard to get (she then calls his retreat a betrayal). Watch Alan, the pale nerd from Texas, go practically overnight from having his first sip of booze to winning the hot-bod contest.

The drama is skin-deep, all right, but ”The Real Cancun” works, in its sleazy-chintzy-lively way, as a documentary version of the ”American Pie” films with a character for everyone in the target demo to claim as his or her own. Of course, the real identification fostered by a movie like this may have more to do with the fact that the people on screen are the people in the audience. That’s the true hook of reality entertainment, isn’t it? The next nonstar/star could literally be you. If movies as they once were ever do get trumped by ”reality,” let it be said that this is what killed them: not nipples but narcissism.

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