In their race to be the first to take reality television to the movie theater, the two production teams were evenly matched in their mastery of the art of filming mating rituals of the young. At one end of the beach was The Real Cancun, produced by Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray, who created the Ur-reality TV show The Real World for MTV. On the other, a few miles away, Mike Fleiss, the man who brought us The Bachelor, was making The Quest. Both movies had similar casting strategies, focusing on the teen-comedy trope of an eager male virgin, but Bunim-Murray had an edge: female identical twins. It was not a fair fight.
After both groups pulled out all the stops to finish their movie first, Fleiss blinked, postponing The Quest indefinitely. Although he declined to comment, Universal Studios claims the movie, about six guys trying to get their dorky friend initiated into sex, is timeless and doesn't need to be rushed for a near spring-break release. Bunim and Murray, who dragged editors and equipment down to Mexico so they could release The Real Cancun this Friday, a week ahead of schedule, have no such pretensions. They, after all, have a movie with twins.
We are not deep into the film before those twins remove their tops and grind against each other during the wet-T-shirt contest (ending up in third place; you don't want to know what the winners did), gently setting the tone of the film. In between the scenes of plastered guys propositioning women, there are montages of such wholesome teen activities as swimming with dolphins and bungee jumping. But mostly it's drunken sex.
How is it that real life provided so many classic frat-boy-comedy moments? "By the end of the week I felt my teeth eroding from the margarita mix," says Roxanne, a sophomore at Texas Tech and one of the twins. "There was never a sober moment. We woke up with margaritas." Alcohol, logic dictates, has the same effect on films as bad writing: it turns young people into cliches. Not only do the 16 people sharing the phat Mexican hotel suite make out indiscriminately, curse and say stupid things, but they also indirectly deliver the requisite moral lesson of a teen comedy: casual sex, even for loutish frat boys, is a pain. "In our house, the girls got all hurt if we brought another girl home," says Matt, 20, an Arizona State student. "They acted like we were a big family, but we'd only known each other for a few days."
The Real Cancun is The Real World as if it were on Cinemax: all the drama plus cursing, nudity and an innovative, nonmilitary use of an infrared camera. But it's better than The Real World because the drama is compressed and simplified. You don't have to film an argument about who stuck a finger in the peanut-butter jar when there's a constant stream of teens hooking up poolside.
More surprising, The Real Cancun also succeeds as a teen comedy. "We grew up seeing the Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello movies, and that would seem so corny now," says producer Murray. "There are moments in this movie that if they were scripted, they would feel corny, but when they're real, they don't." If Alan, the teetotaler virgin who is transformed by a few shots of tequila into the nerd king of Cancun, were a written character, he would be a lame archetype. Instead he is hilariously compelling. Sure, we know his newfound popularity is mostly owing to his having a film crew in tow, but we're willing to ignore the Heisenberg uncertainty principle here. If the movie is shot like a documentary, we're willing to pretend it's a documentary no matter how staged it is. "There were things that the producers told me I couldn't do," says Casey, 25, a Miami model. "There was one point where I hooked up with Trishelle from The Real World Las Vegas [who was there for MTV], and the producer said I wasn't allowed to hang out with her because she's under contract for other things."
And unlike documentarians, the producers, who have to work with MTV in their day jobs, felt it prudent to edit out the more controversial scenes, such as the one in which the twins have an angry, cursing fight with rapper Snoop Dogg in his post-concert trailer after, they say, he tried to get amorous with them. "He's just gross. He has a wife and kids at home," says twin Nicole, who then states the contrapositive of the real lesson of reality programming: "Celebs like him are just average normal people. But he's more of a slut than the average person."
If the material is so strong that the producers could afford to toss the Snoop scene, it's a wonder no one has done a reality movie before. Like reality TV, a reality film is supercheap, and as Jackass proved, there's an audience willing to pay $9 for what it gets free on television. "We pitched this to the usual suspects a year and a half ago," says Murray, who, despite having a relationship with MTV since 1992, was turned down by MTV Films before the idea was picked up by New Line. "Mike Fleiss helped us because it made New Line realize it had something. We're thankful to Mike for coming along, and now we're thankful to him for going away."