Wish you Were Here: time and again, world travelers out for a little fun in the tropical sun get into big trouble

My fellow westerners: If you’ve ever been tempted to take a trip to an exotic locale in a far away land, don’t. Though foreign resorts want your tourist dollars, you’re still likely to offend the locals with your strange foreign ways, refusal to learn their language, penchant for hard drinking and ridiculous dancing, ostentatious camera equipment, and hideous Bermuda shorts. We’re simply more trouble than we’re worth.

If you insist on going, though, you’re likely to come a cropper – and you won’t recognize your mistake until it’s much, much too late. How do I know? I’ve been to the movies. Time and again, world travelers out for a little fun in the tropical sun get into big trouble as soon as they pass through Hollywood’s customs and immigration checkpoints.

In Danny Boyle’s The Beach (2000), Leonardo di Caprio lets a mysterious Thai treasure map get the better of him; in John Stockwell’s Turistas (2006), a stereotypical group of college-age American hitchhikers encounter dreadful plumbing and worse in the remotes of Brazil while searching for – wait for it! – a legendary beach.

And what’s the first thing we see in Wish You Were Here, an Australian mystery opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, June 7? You guessed it – a surfeit of sea and sand. This time, however, the oceanside is Australia’s, while the meat of the story unfolds in Sihanoukville, a Cambodian tourist trap nicknamed The Coastal City because of (what else?) its world-renowned beaches. Credit to writer-director Kieran Darcy-Smith for throwing us a curveball from the get-go.

Cut to a wild and crazy dance party in the aforementioned resort, where a group of Aussie revelers – including husband and wife Dave and Alice (Joel Edgerton and Felicity Price), Alice’s sister Steph (Teresa Palmer), and tall dark and handsome semi-stranger Jeremy (Antony Starr) — are off their heads on dance music, booze, and ecstasy.

It’s a recipe, of course, for disaster. When the sun rises the following morning, Jeremy has gone missing, and the others are unable to remember anything about the previous night’s revelry. Did Jeremy get arrested by the police for selling pills? Did his tourist trinket import-export company suddenly call him away on urgent business? Or did the dogs scouring the party’s refuse mistakenly eat him?

Darcy-Smith’s deliberative screenplay does a decent job of maintaining our interest through the first hour or so of the proceedings, though the constant flashbacks and flash-forwards get a little confusing at times. The cast is solid, with Edgerton particularly good in a shell-shocked, gormless sort of way. Unfortunately, Wish You Were Here’s final-act reveal is a bit of a letdown, but at least it doesn’t stretch credulity. If you’re looking for a low-octane thriller that won’t insult your intelligence, look no further.

Waterwalk: a family-friendly tale on the Mississippi

‘Waterwalk:’ opens on June 7 at Rialto Cinema Elmwood
‘Waterwalk:’ opens on June 7 at Rialto Cinema Elmwood

There’s a local connection with Waterwalk, a low-budget indie drama debuting at Rialto Cinema’s Elmwood on June 7. Berkeley composer Julie Shearer’s Light As Song is featured on the film’s soundtrack, and Oakland musicians The T Sisters will perform the tune prior to the film’s 8:30 pm opening night screening. The film itself is a very family-friendly tale (the harshest expletive in the film is ‘darn’) of father-son bonding during a Mississippi River canoeing trip, and, though overlong at two hours and technically amateurish, would make a great After School Special, if TV networks still made After School Specials.

erkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more Big Screen Berkeley reviews here.

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box...