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Feeling stuck in ‘The Ruins’

Special to The Times

Here are a few fashion tips for exotic travel one can glean from “The Ruins” -- regardless of the calendar’s relationship to Labor Day, white jeans should not be worn for a jungle excursion, and flip-flops aren’t such a hot idea either. Also, young women should heed the old truism about wearing clean underwear just in case, because somehow you will end up with your pants off, no matter the circumstances.

Though these might seem like arcane or somewhat fanciful reactions, when a film is as depressingly inert and blithely gruesome as “The Ruins,” the mind does wander.

Based on a novel by Scott B. Smith (who also wrote the screenplay) and directed by Carter Smith (no relation), “The Ruins” follows a group of young Americans (Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore and Laura Ramsey) on vacation in Mexico. Looking to get away from the cloistered resort where they are staying, they fall in with a German party boy (Joe Anderson) and a few random Greeks to explore a rumored Maya temple that is, as everyone keeps saying, not even on the map.

Next thing they know, there are locals with guns and bows-and-arrows forcing them to remain atop the ruins, and they have to amputate a fellow traveler’s legs using a found knife and a hot frying pan. Then things get really bad.

In the interest of spoiler sanctity, the true villains of the piece will not be explicitly mentioned here (though one need only look at the poster to figure it out). What can be said is that they are no kind of villain at all, so there is an essential flatness throughout the film.

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Once the youngsters find themselves stuck atop the Maya ruin, the story is, in many ways, over. The film plateaus on the plateau, as it were. When Smith and Smith linger far too long on a barely clothed young woman’s escalating agony, culminating in her attempt to cut away her own skin, the only reasonable response is “how did we get here again?” (Some wisenheimer out there is now saying, “But that’s the idea, to put you as the viewer in the same psychological spot as the characters.” Uh, no.)

Scott Smith might have been nominated for an Academy Award for his adaptation of his own “A Simple Plan,” but no such recognition will be coming his way for his work here. The characters never evolve past mere functionality, and the adherence to certain tried-and-true horror tropes -- the good girl who doesn’t want to go but does, the generic naughty kids who get it first -- feels workmanlike, robbing the story of any real suspense or surprise.

Not even a fixer-upper, “The Ruins” should be considered a complete tear-down.

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“The Ruins.” MPAA rating: R for strong violence and gruesome images, language, some sexuality and nudity. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. In wide release.


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