Wild Ones

'The Real Cancun' puts reality formula in a blender, chugs it down and lets the clothes fall where they may.

April 25, 2003|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

From the beginning, there were hints that The Real Cancun was, oh, how shall we put it ... not your typical movie.

There was the fact that even before the opening credits finished rolling, two women had played tongue twister and another had hoisted up her sodden T-shirt. There was the bespectacled guy so stock-character nerdy that any self-respecting filmmaker would have thought thrice before writing him into a script.

Above all, there was the first scene - 16 strangers arrive at a Cancun hotel to spend the week together. They shake hands, swap names and size up one another's barely contained assets before sealing new friendships with tequila shots.

Sound familiar? It should.

The Real Cancun essentially is MTV's The Real World - but on spring break. And with this movie, Bunim-Murray Productions - the granddaddy of reality programming - has used its tried-and-true Real World formula in a bid to conquer the big screen.

"Going back as far as '96, we always felt that, as reality bubbled over into prime time, that you could take that to the theater," says Jonathan Murray, co-creator of The Real World. "We can give the audience something they don't get on television. It's more graphic in language and sex. You can hear the language that kids that age really speak, where on television, all that would have to be bleeped. You also can actually go to a wet T-shirt contest."

And Murray knows what his audience wants. By all accounts, he and partner Mary-Ellis Bunim get how to engage entertainment's coveted 18 to 34 demographic. Real Cancun, however, is a daring departure. And, given their successes so far, one has to wonder whether it marks a new wave of reality films - TV-style.

Long before Survivor and American Idol, Bunim and Murray were pioneers in reality television. In 1992, they dreamed up The Real World, an experiment that tossed seven strangers in a house, turned on the cameras and created a franchise that logs more viewers every year. The team also has been responsible for reality hits like ABC's Making the Band and the Fox network's Love Cruise.

While Murray felt the reality paradigm could work in film, he knew that picking the right framework was key.

"We knew it probably had to be a comedy and it probably should be aimed at the audience that's most comfortable with reality programming," he says. "Spring break seemed like a perfect idea. ... People go on spring break with expectations and goals. You're with a group of people, you're at a hotel, it's rife with possibilities."

So, in January, his crew canvassed more than a dozen college campuses, selected eight men and eight women, flew them to Cancun last month - and let the drinking begin.

Almost immediately, two cast members - both with significant others back home - had wild (if night-vision grainy) sex. An 18-year-old avowed non-drinker was doing body shots (slurping alcohol from the navel of another) with strangers. And blond twins from New Mexico were bumping and grinding in a wet T-shirt contest - an eye-candy extravaganza that Murray insists was pure luck.

"We weren't that calculating," he says, laughing. "It was a surprise to us that they decided to enter a wet T-shirt contest because in the casting, they were quite prim and proper."

Better yet, because the tequila was free-flowing, cast members often drew laughs without trying. Casey, a 25-year-old model, stumbles around spouting unforgettable pickup lines like, "Do any of you girls want to make out or anything?" And the shy, 18-year-old Alan confesses his big hope for the week - "I just want to see some boobies."

"If we had tried to write this movie," Murray says, "it would have laid flat on the paper ... Some of the storylines are not necessarily something new, but because they're real, it feels new."

Any project with a "reality" tag is bound to inspire doubts about authenticity. Real Cancun is no exception. Instead of piling into a ratty motel room with 10 friends, like real spring-breakers, the cast members are spread out in an entire wing of a boutique hotel. And, to break up the drinking and snogging, activities like swimming with dolphins and bungee-jumping have been pre-arranged.

Even so, the virginal Alan insists "it was completely real."

Phone conversations with a few cast members on the eve of the film's release reveal trains of thought that seem to match their on-screen personas.

After an introduction, determined ladies man Paul plunges into the interview purring, "That's a real beautiful name. You must be beautiful. Are you?" When Nicole, 20, is asked why she held her hands over her chest during the wet T-shirt contest, she explains, "The contest itself is kind of portrayed as not that classy, so maybe covering up made it seem more classy."

Her twin sister Roxanne one-ups her: "I'd much rather be remembered for a movie than for being smart. There's millions of smart people - there's only 16 of us who got to be in a reality movie."

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