By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated April 28, 2003 07:36 AM

It seemed like a sure winner, but “The Real Cancun” — a reality movie rife with nudity, booze and spring-breakers behaving badly — flopped so badly at the box office last weekend that Hollywood is now scratching its collective head while critics breathe a huge sigh of relief.

“A staggering failure,” happily writes New York Daily News critic Jack Mathews. He predicts a similar dismal fate for “The Quest,” another so-called spring break reality movie (that is, no script, just a camera set up to record vacationers’ antics) that “Cancun” beat to the big screen.

Released by New Line Cinema (which, like PEOPLE, is part of AOL Time Warner), the R-rated film from the producers of MTV’s unscripted teen hit “The Real World,” took in a skimpy $2.1 million in North American ticket sales Friday through Sunday, behind the Kirk and Michael Douglas disappointment “It Runs in the Family” and ranking a lowly No. 10 its first weekend out.

Although the movie cost only $8 million to produce, it is estimated that marketing costs raised its final price tag to $32 million.

Part of the problem may be that because “The Real Cancun” was R-rated, young boys anxious to catch the movie’s topless shots and puerile humor were kept out of theaters.

Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box-office tracking service Exhibitor Relations Co., tells Reuters: “There were a lot of 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds who’d want to see this movie, but you have to be 17 or older to get into an R-rated movie without your parents.

“This is not the kind of movie parents are going to feel comfortable taking their kids to, and it’s not the kind of movie kids would want to go with their parents to see.”

Then again, as Mathews suggests in the Daily News: “The only way a spring break movie will work is if (it’s) ‘Jackass Goes to Cancun.'”