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Gruesome "Hostel 2" worth checking into, barely

So. Many. Sequels!

If I said we should play a game where you guessed the movie that could alternately be titled "That One Movie Where You Kind of Wish Everyone Was Dead," you'd guess "Hostel," right?

Because everyone in it was a horrible person and it wasn't much fun to watch them. I'm not 100% on this, but I think the frat boys debauching their way across Europe were actually worse than the millionaires who jetted in to torture them to death.

Sadly, one of said frat boys survived the first film, but he doesn't last 10 minutes in "Hostel: Part II." He lives just long enough to have a dream and retell the first movie, in fact, and there's nothing better than watching someone go through something that doesn't really exist and then yammer on about something you've already seen.

Once that's out of the way, "Hostel 2" moves on to three girls studying art in Rome and prepping for a train trip east through Europe. Heather Matarazzo is honestly interested in the local culture, but like the guys in the first film, friends Bijou Phillips and Lauren German are shallow, selfish and treat the locals mostly as Pez dispensers, but for sex and drugs instead of Pez.

For some reason, director Eli Roth spends three billion years with these vapid people who seem to have traveled for the sole purpose of looking down on the locals. Maybe that's his idea of a good time. Well, call me a freakish deviant, but it isn't mine.

If this endless meandering sounds familiar, it's because we already saw the exact same structure the first time around. "Hostel 2's" first sign of life isn't until the Slovak death team who's been watching the girls opens the online bidding for the rights to kill them.

In a morbidly funny sequence, middle-aged Americans Richard Burgi and Roger Bart win the bidding. From this point on, the movie spends as much time with their quest to go through the ultimate rite of manhood -- killing another human! That's what I'm talkin' 'bout! -- as with the girls' gruesome ordeals.

That's a good thing. The original caught a lot of half-deserved flak for basically being gorenography. Much as I like watching people getting hacked into dogfood, it's much more interesting to follow the motivations of the hackers rather than the hackees, and Bart and Burgi do a great job fleshing out two fairly normal guys who just happen to think it's a neat idea to pay for the privilege of committing murder.

Not to say "Hostel 2" doesn't have its moments of brutality. I mean, it's got a literal bloodbath, and that's one of the least graphic scenes.

But it's also got some insight into the power that comes with wealth and the hollowness that comes from depending on it. I really do get the idea Eli Roth could end up a good director. "Hostel 2" has some smart stuff to say about travel and money and masculinity as well as a perversely unique sense of humor that might not be as funny if you're one of those uptight people who can't have a good laugh at a person getting mutilated. No matter what the panic patrol might be saying, it's not just a truckload of mindless gore.

That doesn't absolve it from needing to be fun to watch, though! Tedious wandering in the company of characters who range from sickeningly self-centered to monstrously amoral is not fun, and not just because it's eerily reminiscent of high school.

Roth's got his style and his substance down, now he just needs to learn how to tell a story. "Hostel 2" is better than the first, but it's got too many of the same flaws to be satisfying.

Grade: C+

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