Before viewing The Real Cancun, the new feature-length production (one hesitates to call it a “movie”) from the creators of MTV’s The Real World, you might want to pay a visit to the flick’s website. There, you can learn how to make a “Sloppy Wet Kiss” and other suggestive mixed drinks, share your own “tales of debauchery and decadence” with other site visitors, and even “build your own sexy postcards” using stock footage of g-strings and board-shorts.
More importantly, you can get the inside scoop on The Real Cancun’s 16 semi-nubile cast members, a cross-section of college-agers plopped down in a Cancun beach house and granted unlimited bar tabs and VIP passes to all the best parties, in return for which they agreed to have their week’s worth of “debauchery and decadence” recorded for posterity by an array of cameras, hidden and not.
The site might not seem that interesting, but I promise you, if you don’t take the time to visit the personal pages of these “party animals who put the ‘can’ in Cancun,” you won’t just miss finding out what Laura, a waitress from Wisconsin who really wants to act, lists as her favorite book (her answer: “I don’t really read”) — you’ll also miss out on the chance to memorize the names and faces of the hapless 16 cast members. And if you don’t
commit them to memory, it will take you the whole movie just to figure out which one is Sky (she’s the token black girl who plays hard to get with one of the token black guys), which sleazy guy is Jeremy (he’s the one who sleeps with Laura the waitress and then barely speaks to her again) and which is Matt (he’s the one who has a one-night-stand in the shower), and which blonde, vacuous twin from Texas Tech is which (I’m still not sure).
Then again, at least trying to figure out the characters’ names without benefit of an Internet guide is more amusing than the obviously massaged footage that comprises The Real Cancun’s central story line. (All reality shows depend on artfully edited “stories,” of course, but this one is particularly creaky.) From the beginning, it’s clear that the audience is meant to root for Alan-from-Texas, virgin and teetotaler and supposed “nice guy,” whose Cancun corruption is a fait accompli. By “root for him,” of course, I mean “root for him to do body shots and make out with five women at a pool party and participate in a hottest body contest in which he prances around in a speedo — and then find a nice girl with a foreign accent and exchange phone numbers with her and not have sex, at least not on camera, so that we can still think of him as the nice guy.”
Alas, I despised Alan — not because he was virtuous and pure, but because he was an obvious fraud, whose vocal protestations of his own innocence (he’s a virgin who only drinks milk!) were undercut when he declared that “I just wanna see some boobies” even before his housemates coaxed him into doing tequila shots. He knew his part, I’ll give him that — “I’m still the nice guy, right?” he kept bleating, while he slurped alcohol off a girl’s navel. But I vastly preferred watching the stumbling, leering Casey — a constantly drunken would-be model from South Beach who propositioned every girl he met, but at least never pretended to be anything than a rogue taking advantage of the free liquor and easy living.
There were other subplots, of course — romantic interludes and jellyfish crises, the latter solved by the hasty application of urine — but I wouldn’t want to spoil them. They’re thin enough as it is, in a thin production filled with thin (but extremely buff) characters. Indeed, what most distinguishes The Real Cancun is how harmless the whole businesses is: there’s simply no time, in a week-long vacation condensed into ninety minutes of footage, for real heartbreak or real corruption — or real epiphanies and awakenings, I suppose. (Though with these 16 would-be stars, there was never much danger of the latter.)
Even the immorality — the casual sex captured on grainy night-vision cameras, the debauched wet tee-shirt contests, the drunken excesses of all kinds — comes to seem largely harmless. Cancun (and Spring Break in general) represents the moral misrule once associated with Saturnalia: Its inhabitants are on a self-aware holiday from virtue, not a permanent vacation.
So there isn’t much to make The Real Cancun worth watching — except perhaps hints, albeit unintentional ones, of a more interesting story, a “Real Real Cancun,” if you will, that lurks beneath the glitz and g-strings. Cancun, like all the Caribbean resorts, is a bubble of American decadence perched on the shores of a poorer world, and throughout the story we catch glimpses of actual Mexicans — bartenders and drivers and waiters — watching their northern neighbors, the princes of the Earth, cavort before the cameras. I wanted to know more about them, and about the peculiar double consciousness of a poor country with jewel-like, American-supported hotels sprinkled along its shores. But there was never any time — a Snoop Dogg concert was on the schedule, and the 16 party animals who put the “can” in Cancun were running late.
— Ross Douthat, an NRO contributor, is an editorial analyst at The Atlantic Monthly and an editor at theamericanscene.com. He is currently at work on a book about his time at Harvard.