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MTV Flunks at the Movies

Is there no frontier in entertainment that's safe from the invasion of mindless reality TV? It's not enough that this stupid genre is trying to dominate prime time. It's not enough that executives are plotting the debut of a 24-hour reality-TV channel called Reality Central, promising that among its new programs will be a reality show about the creation of the new reality channel. Now people are expected to pony up eight bucks for reality TV at the movies.

Say it isn't so. But it is. In an attempt to score a quick, cheap coup at the box office, MTV Films plotted to have MTV-based Bunim-Murray Productions take its "Real World" (stupid-youth-overindulging-makeout-catfight) formula to spring break in Cancun, Mexico. The result, after ten days of having a "cast" do their best to be at their worst, is a movie entitled "The Real Cancun."

Clearly, the MTV empire was looking to score big with this film. Their last offering, the dopey daredevil/grossout "Jackass" film, registered huge opening weekend numbers last fall, a cool $22.7 million to be exact. The promotion for "The Real Cancun" included placing ads everywhere on the TV dial where the most decadent youth culture would be found, from sporting events to raunchy Fox shows.

The numbers are now in. The first-weekend gross for this gross movie was $2.3 million. The movie is a flop. A disaster. A bomb.

Why were the crowds so thin? You might blame the filthy fact that children can watch hours of racy spring-break programming almost every spring day on MTV. Granted, the movie format offered MTV the opportunity to dig deeper into the bottom of the reality barrel. In the movie, we get six or seven looks at bare breasts, sans pixels. We get hidden-camera footage of couples apparently fornicating under blankets. We get to watch a guy pour his urine on a girl's jellyfish sting, and in slow motion, too.

But there's a more obvious reason this movie isn't selling. The public guessed (correctly) from the ads that it's a horrible movie, an almost plotless disaster. It doesn't even succeed at telling a cohesive story in the midst of the ten days of shooting. It's either a bonanza of sex, booze-swilling, and dirty dancing, or a series of episodes of inarticulate people doing uninteresting things, and we have no idea why it's worth watching. "There's not really time to wonder how all these random things are going to tell a 95-minute story," admitted co-creator Jonathan Murray, "The cast is living their lives day to day, and the movie takes shape day to day."

In this quickie-drama format, the idea of romantic tension becomes a laughable proposition. Two of the "cast" members, Sky and Paul, are getting to know each other, but after only four days of attempting to woo her, Paul engages in a one-night stand with someone else. It's almost pathetic, Sky complaining how she was playing hard to get, which in this locale means waiting six days instead of four. In fact, the producers soon display the couple under the hidden camera getting busy under covers, despite Paul's promiscuous ways. The MTV formula insists that young men learn this lesson: You don't have to be patient or faithful. Some women are loose enough to let you get away with anything.

Then there's Sarah, who gets upset after Matt has a quick rendezvous in the shower with another girl after spending most of the week with her, despite the fact that she has a steady boyfriend back at college. She telegraphs to the other girls that she really would have liked to be tempted into hot and heavy cheating with Matt, but now all the fun has been ruined, and she can't wait to get back to the "best [expletive] boyfriend in the world." Lucky guy. Let's hope he sees this movie and dumps her.

When the lights go up at movie's end, people wonder why they just spent eight bucks. Even the dumb MTV crowd must realize they're possibly dumber than when they walked in. People watching MTV for free have somewhat lower expectations. People cut their toenails or wash dishes or play with the puppy with the TV on. At least for now, the movies are different, where many people go to be dazzled by impossibly beautiful people and impossible special effects. A little cheer is in order, for this episode of beach-blanket booze-and-bimbos bombed.