Real Cancun

Year: 2003
Studio: New Line
Director: Rick De Oliveira
Cancun is the Rottnest Island of US High School and college graduates, site of the infamous American rite of passage known as Spring Break (what we call Schoolies Week).

It's a balmy strip of prime real estate on Mexico's eastern edge, right on the tropical waters of the Caribbean and a stone's throw from Cuba. Once unspoiled, the relentless juggernaut of American tourism has now well and truly spoilt it.

And in a film project that had to happen, we get to follow a troupe of airheaded teenagers around for a week, reality TV style. The result of an exhaustive casting process (from 10,000 down to the final 16) is a very media-friendly cross section of American youth.

There's David and Heidi, lifelong friends always close to 'hooking up' (that means getting together... you know, romantically, for you adults), Jorell and Paul from LA, wannabe gangsters who think they're Dr Dre and Ice Cube. There's Sky, the token black girl (by her own admission), Calvin Klein prettyboys Matt, Jeremy and the implausibly stupid Casey (also a model). Geeky Alan, who follows the Revenge of the Nerds path to coolness, and other assorted babes and dudes, most of them not very interesting, all of them appropriately photogenic and completely self absorbed.

We see them all laugh, (almost) cry, seethe with jealousy and lust, fall in love, drink a lot, scream a lot at various parties and concerts, root, swim, frolic. They also talk a lot, if that's what it can be called. Hesitatingly trying to express themselves, their discourse is almost exclusively about who's 'hooking up' and using the word 'like' far too much (as in "You know, it's like..." and "I was, like...").

In fact, if Real Cancun surprises you in any way, it's by making you remember how crucial it was when you were a school leaver to spend a holiday getting romantically involved (or just laid) instead of simply having a good time.

You'll smile, remembering how stupid you were at 18 or 20 when so many ridiculous things seemed so life and death (before you even understood the concepts of mortgages, bills, work or bringing up children).

If you're that age yourself, it's hard to say what you'll get out of it. Presumably you'll be drawn to it by the same cultural force that draws you and your peers in their hundreds of millions to watch Big Brother.

But then, we're all drawn in to some extent. And why? Because nothing makes us feel better about ourselves that laughing at other people's stupidity or delusions of importance. If there's hissyfits, cool music and plenty of bare tits involved, all the better.

Which is also where the film gets a bit too clever. The concept promises there's been no script and no actors, but you can't help thinking that (even if unscripted) at least some of the proceedings were set up (or at least encouraged) by the filmmakers. Not even American high school graduates are so dumb they don't know when we're taking the piss out of them - witness Casey striking one of his vacant model poses for the interviewer or Laura catching Matt shagging some skank in the shower. At its simplest, Real Cancun entertains because there's plenty to laugh at these kids about.

Some call reality TV exploitation. If it is, what better location for it? While you watch the boozing, partying and flashing by the 21st century princes and princesses of America, you don't have to think too hard to spare a thought for the exploding poverty in Mexico (up over 50% since they introduced NAFTA in 1994). Those lucky enough to have tourism industry jobs for a few dollars an hour (like the Mariachi band sprung on the kids by the tour organisers or the bartenders serving them tequila shots for breakfast) smile and clown around for the rich Americans.

So is Real Cancun exploitation? Of course, but so is the real Cancun.

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