Friday, August 07, 2009

A Perfect Getaway (movie review)

(This review was also published in Jacksonville's Folio Weekly, and it's posted here).

A Perfect Getaway
Stars Steve Zahn, Milla Jovovich; directed by David Twohy; Rated R; 97 minutes

Action thrillers, not unlike romantic comedies, amount to cinematic junk food.

Viewers know what to expect, and usually get it: Attractive people, preferably a couple, unexpectedly find themselves on the run from one or more enemies that are dangerous but are usually gracious enough to let the stars live. Supporting players, though, aren't always so fortunate.

Given the multiple twists in "A Perfect Getaway," it's tempting to believe that writer-director David Twohy ("Below," "Pitch Black") has subverted the form.

But, really, that would be giving the filmmaker more credit than he's due. Why? The big reveal is so patently ridiculous, and doesn't really work out logically; one ensuing development even elicited chuckles during the advance screening. It's a good thing that Twohy manages to create palpable tension during the first three-quarters of the movie, because the last act -- a chase, bolstered with a gaudy if rather pointless split-screen sequence, followed by a big, bloody finish -- is literally and figuratively downhill.

It wouldn't be fair to relate how Twohy attempts to upend expectations. But it might be helpful to describe the paths he doesn't take. Despite the set-up, a honeymooning couple's visit to Hawaii and their journey to a gorgeous secluded beach, the story doesn't proceed in the direction of straight-up slasher movie or torture porn, or even a nature-strikes-back horror fest, ala "The Ruins."

The terror in "A Perfect Getaway" instead is more believable if nonetheless frightening. Freshly married screenwriter Cliff (Steve Zahn) and his new bride Cydney (Milla Jovovich) have just arrived in the Hawaiian Islands, and they soak up the awe-dropping natural beauty of the hills and lush greenery during the travelogue-worthy first few minutes of the movie.

Their idyll is rocked when they get news about the brutal murders of a honeymooning couple, on the island of Oahu. Against their better judgment, they decide to stick to their plans to take the long backwoods trek -- first by jeep, then by foot -- along the beautiful but somewhat treacherous Kalalau Trail, on Kauai. Debating whether to pick up a pair of tough-looking hitchhikers, Cliff quips, "Nothing bad ever happens in Hawaii."

"A Perfect Getaway" offers no shortage of clues and coincidences and/or red herrings, including those hitchhikers (Chris Hemsworth and Marley Shelton), who are either Manson Family wannabes or merely rough around the edges.

Cliff and Cydney next encounter another loving couple, from the South, Gina (Kiele Sanchez) and Nick (Timothy Olyphant). She's sort of a twang-talking Southern belle gone bad, while he's a slightly loony Gulf War vet with a steel plate in his head and a penchant for wacky talk about his derring-do: "You're a screenwriter, I'm a Jedi," Nick tells Cliff. "We chose different paths." The four, despite mutual misgivings, seem to bond.

One character mentions the phrase "red herring," and another makes a reference to murder-spree thriller "Natural Born Killers," and Cliff and Nick engage in loose talk about the best way to structure and title a screenplay.

But any viewer determined to solve the mystery early is advised not to take these or other clues at face value. It's probably best not to take anything else about Twohy's movie too seriously either, since the conclusion is such a rapid descent into silliness. On the plus side, the getting there offers plenty of tension, and these characters -- variously nerdy, scary, cocky, flaky, and sexy -- are more than adequately entertaining.

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