Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
May 24, 2012
1/2* (out of four)
Consider the possible outcomes of piling into a van for an off-limits tour of a deserted disaster area with potentially dangerous radiation levels.
A. Everything goes smoothly while you take insensitive photos of crumbling buildings and empty fields, plus that cute one of you kissing in front of a reactor. The excursion fails to justify your logic that while in Europe "we might as well see as much as we can."
B. The rundown van breaks and "extreme" tour guide Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko), whose sales pitch is "Imagine you have big city and no one's there," finds that after 5 years of tours without encountering hungry animals or more monstrous beings his and his guests' luck have run out.
A group of unlikable 20-somethings (including Chicago native Jonathan Sadowski, singer Jesse McCartney and Devin Kelley of "The Chicago Code") move from outcome A to B when they can't resist the chance to tour, wait, what's Chernobyl again? "Isn't that where the nuclear disaster happened?" one of them asks. Yes it is, but lest the notion of turning the site of real-life tragedy into a generic horror movie seems offensive, "Chernobyl Diaries" mostly takes place in the evacuated town of Pripyat right next to the power plant. So that's totally in good taste.
Unfortunately the story, if you can call an exploitative idea with mind-numbingly stupid behavior and zero explanation a story, comes from "Paranormal Activity" creator Oren Peli. Director Bradley Parker competently builds tension of the usual silence-silence-silence-SOMETHING-LOUD variety, but anyone who's ever seen a horror movie will predict the jumps and exclaim only during the constant unintentional laughs. For example: The remarkable ease of sneaking into the restricted area (nice try, small road block!) or the dwindling number of survivors hiding from killer dogs in a wide-open space. There, they find a bus riddled with bullet holes, prompting the line, "Who would shoot at a bus?" Because that's what's weird about this situation--the type of vehicle that was attacked.
"We need to be smart about this," says Amanda (Kelley) long after everyone has ignored every possible red flag but before they realize increasing radiation levels mean worse consequences than louder beeping on the radiation detect-o-meter. Although, hey, Uri said they wouldn't be there long enough to risk exposure, so why worry?
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