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It would have been too easy for the old-time grindhouse hucksters to hype "The Ruins" with such in-your-face admonitions as: "You'll Never Trust Your Houseplants Again After You See ... THE RUINS!" Even though that's probably true, this particular serving of Saturday night gore is garnished with more measured-than-usual doses of creative tension and metaphorical possibility. Make no mistake, though. You're going to cringe plenty before it's over.




Adapted by Scott B. Smith ("A Simple Plan") from his novel, "The Ruins" has a setup that seems handed down like an heirloom from schlockmeister to schlockmeister. Four young Americans are on their next-to-last day of vacation in Mexico when a young German (Joe Anderson, "Across the Universe") invites them to help track down some friends on an archaeological dig at a tomb in a remote Mayan village.




Pre-med student Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) is gung-ho for adventure while his girlfriend, Amy (Jena Malone), would rather nurse a hangover at the hotel. She's got the right idea, but she's outvoted by their friends Eric (Shawn Ashmore) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey). When they arrive near the site, they get weird and, of course, ominous looks from the villagers.




At the base of the mossy green tomb, the gringos and gringas are set upon by more villagers who violently force them to the top of the temple and make sure none of them comes back down.




As you can already surmise, they're no safer up there than they are on the ground. And, wouldn't you know, their cell phones are &

choke &

useless so far from civilization!




Still, they keep hearing someone's phone going off, which leads to one or two ill-advised searches for the source of the noise. Soon they will discover that, as with everything else at the temple, the vegetation is behind all the bad stuff, including the unspeakable things they end up doing to each other.




And maybe that's too much information. All you need to know from here is that director Carter Smith (no relation to Scott), making his feature debut, lets his story unravel like a towline. (Such pacing may allow more thoughtful viewers to find analogies to real-life biological menaces and their potential impact.) Still, you can't take too seriously a movie whose most "mature" character assures his fellow victims, "Four American tourists don't just disappear!" Dude! In what country do you see horror movies?




"The Ruins" is rated R.




Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service