A Perfect Getaway

A Perfect Getaway | Thriller | rated R (V) | starring Steve Zahn, Mila Jovovich, Timothy Olyphant, Marley Shelton | written & directed by David Twohy | 1:38 mins

Cliff and Cyndey (Steve Zahn and Mila Jovovich), a couple on their Honeymoon in Hawaii  go on a hiking trail through an increasingly remote area of the tropical paradise. Along the way they meet a few characters, mainly another couple Nick and Gina (Timothy Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez). There is an instant interest in each other with Nick interested in Cliff’s job as a screenwriter and offering Cliff outrageous movie-worthy stories of his days in black ops that Cliff doesn’t quite believe. Alone in the jungle they all begin to share secrets, but with word coming from the mainland that a couple on their honeymoon was killed a few days earlier in Hawaii they both start to suspect each other is the killer.

Writer/Director David Twohy has made a career of making the most out of cheesy B-movie stories, from The Arrival to the high-concept Pitch-Black. A Perfect Getaway is his most basic B-movie story yet and with it he has uped his game to make his most polished movie yet. The script has all the markings of a first screenplay, as it is both ultimately based on a gimmick and spends much time being a self-aware screenplay about basic screenplay structures. But Twohy the filmmaker delights in trying to guess what the audience is thinking and keep one step ahead of them. As a suspect couple appears on screen we get a discussion between characters about red herrings, but is that itself a red herring? Is the movie dumb or sly? 

But to focus on the 3rd act twist (which I’ll get too later) entirely is to miss why the movie works because of (or despite) it. This is a great lazy weekend afternoon movie. Firstly, the film is beautifully photographed, making great use of Hawaii as a backdrop both for a scenic vacation and roll-in-the-sand fight for your life. The action is well executed and the score goes with each change in tone perfectly.

The performances are far above what you’d normally see in a thriller like this. Timothy Olyphant steals the movie in his best work to date (including the later released The Crazies). Olyphant is terrific as the “man in full” who tells near death stories that sound like bull, but takes command of the trip like a mercinary. Where was this badass during Live Free or Die Hard? He plays into Twohy’s trick for keeping Nick seem like both the hero and the villain nicely. Then we have Steve Zahn who has been criminally underused since That Thing You Do! and Joy Ride now given a role juicy enough for his talents to get around fully. It’s arguably his best movie too. Jovovich and Sanchez are also good, but it’s the bonding and slight macho games between the two men that propel the movie.

After it’s third act reveal Towhy goes ballistic with the action pulling out every thriller element he can think of. Including splitting the screen into 3 at one point. But when he isn’t trying that hard to impress the guy knows how to stage an action scene. Many of the payoffs in this section are rather obvious and Towhy can’t quite overcome the familiarity of the material to get it up to a real nail-bitting thriller boil. And yet it is fun because all of these characters have been so well set up beforehand.  A Perfect Getaway has an undeniably more colorful personality and attention to dialog and character than is usually afforded this type of movie.  

As for the twist. The first time I saw the movie I was dissapointed, simply because the twist is one that I’ve seen before and given the limited population of the film its easy for the audience to “call it” early on. Viewing the film a second time with the surprise element of it behind me I was impressed with the double-entendres Towhy uses to make the movie work on both levels, ultimately revealing the ending in the very beginning of the movie and keeping us distracted until he wants us to know. If the nature of the twist may not be very original, it is a clever bit of writing to get us there and to show us that it was in our face the entire time. This, to me, is the very definition of a good twist. One that allows you to see the movie in a different light the 2nd time. Like Fight Club or Orphan and unlike the overrated The Sixth Sense, the third act reveal of A Perfect Getaway elevates the movie to something it wasn’t before the reveal. It adds a whole new layer to the story and characters.

So it may at times seem like a scriptwriting 101 excersise, but A Perfect Getaway actually plays better on a 2nd viewing. The story isn’t anything you haven’t seen before and it’s technically indulgent on Towhy’s part more often than not, but clever writing, great performances, characters with personality and Towhy’s clean eye for action sequences make it a better movie than it may at first appear.

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