A PERFECT GETAWAY
Director: David Twohy
Cast: Steve Zahn, Timothy Olyphant, Milla Jovovich, Kiele Sanchez, Marley Shelton, Chris Hemsworth
MPAA Rating: (for graphic violence, language including sexual references and some drug use)
Running Time: 1:37
Release Date: 8/7/09
Review by Mark Dujsik
There's something to be said for an effective slow burn, especially one like A Perfect Getaway, in which nothing of any real consequence happens until its final twenty minutes. Well, things happen, as we learn in a sudden series of flashbacks that break the narrative pre-climax; it's just that the audience isn't privy to what actions beforehand are important and for what reason until then.
It's inherently a cheat, but in a way, the film is partially about perspective and playing with the way we (as people) judge by first impressions and (as the audience) assume the basics of story structure. Hence, the cheating writer/director David Twohy perpetrates to get to the climax is forgivable.
The con is all the more forgivable because the buildup works and pretty well at that. Its setup is simple. There are three couples on a trail in Hawaii. Cliff (Steve Zahn) and Cydney (Milla Jovovich) are newlyweds on their honeymoon. They meet Nick (Timothy Olyphant) and Gina (Kiele Sanchez) along the way. Kale (Chris Hemsworth) and Cleo (Marley Shelton) are the hitchhiking newlyweds to whom Cliff and Cydney turned down a ride.
There's been a murder of another newlywed couple in Honolulu, perpetrated by a couple. The cops think the killers have hopped islands. All the couples are perfect next targets and, because they have all been in Honolulu, are perfect suspects.
Who do we (as people) trust? The hitchhikers are creepy, and Kale seems a violent type right off the bat. Nick and Gina are nice enough, but Nick's got a past in the military—the kind he's not officially allowed to talk about but that we know he could easily do some permanent damage with that knife tucked away by his ankle.
We (as the audience) know a few things, too. Twohy doesn't show us Kale's face until the end of his first appearance, and if there was ever conceit for the foreshadowing of menace, that's a biggie. Nick may be governmentally contracted to secrecy, but that doesn't stop him from telling screenwriter Cliff all about his escapades in Baghdad. The one that got him the steel plate in the back of his head is a favorite, and Gina loves to tell anyone who'll listen how hard it is to kill her beau. We (as the audience) know all about the cliché of the unstoppable killer, and Gina seems to be telling us her boyfriend is just the type.
Twohy has his characters tell us a lot about what to expect in a script like the one for A Perfect Getaway. If it turns out Nick and Gina are the killers, Nick tells Cliff, "That'd make a great second-act twist." Nick also loves spreading his knowledge of screenwriting (acquired at a quick seminar at some point in his adventures) and the idea of "red snappers." Kale and Cleo seem the perfect herrings—sorry, "snappers." Then again, so do Nick and Gina. And what is up with the supply guy from the shop at start of the trail suddenly appearing deep in the forest on the trail?
The script has meta embedded into it, but it signals a smarter approach to the material. Consider if instead the film embarked upon cheap, pointless startle moment after another, the way thrillers have degraded into recently, and we can appreciate Twohy's handling all the more. There are quieter moments here than we expect. There's also some great scenery of Hawaii and Puerto Rico subbing as the Aloha State.
What Twohy does with his serene landscapes, quiet discussions, and tongue-in-cheek dialogue is catch us off guard. Our expectations (as the audience) are thrown off. We have a good idea who the killer couple is (and let's be honest, you have over a 33 percent chance of guessing correctly if you pick one from the start), or at least we think we do. Twohy constantly dares us to guess, only to throw the scent elsewhere, get us accustomed to our new idea, and then throw it back right where it started.
Is it cheating? Hell yes. The characters, though, are in on the game. Cliff and Cydney hide in the trees, pretending nature has called, and look over the grainy, distant photo of the suspects from Honolulu on his cell phone. Cydney assuages her husband's fear: "It could be anybody." Meanwhile, Nick and Gina are having the same discussion yards away, while Kale and Cleo are off somewhere, possibly with Cliff and Cydney's hiking permits or possibly evidence in their bags.
To give away the identity of the killers would be useless and, while it wouldn't ruin the game Twohy has devised, it would certainly diminish its fun.
The film is fun in its twisted way. Olyphant has a blast as the too-eager-to-please/intimidate/outright-freak-out Nick, and Jovovich provides a creepy moment in which she reveals a darker side of her seemingly perfect life. Zahn, too, is quite good as usual.
If the buildup is fun, the climax is downright giddy in its insanity. The dark humor that's been forming comes to fruition, from an always-inopportune phone call at a most-opportune time to someone try to shoot a gun after their hand has been permanently, forcibly, gruesomely shaped into the Vulcan salute.
Try to figure out the killers if you must (and I kindly remind you that you are not obligated to do so), but A Perfect Getaway doesn't care either way.
Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.