I’m about to say some harsh things about A Perfect Getaway. I’m going to defecate on David Twohy’s directing, Milla Jovovich’s acting, David Twohy’s screenplay, and some inexcusably bad special effects. And then I’m going to tell you that in spite of all that’s wrong with the movie it’s also very funny, surprisingly suspenseful, and damn entertaining anyway. It’s an admittedly absurd third-act twist to find in a movie review, but hopefully you won’t let it ruin the entire experience for you.
Cliff (Steve Zahn) and Cydney (Jovovich) are in Hawaii for their honeymoon, and after a helicopter tour reveals a secluded beach paradise the couple decides to hike there for a night of camping. They meet two other couples on the journey… sketchy newlywed hitchhikers Kale (Chris Hemsworth) and Cleo (Marley Shelton) and outgoing braggarts Nick (Timothy Olyphant) and Gina (Kiele Sanchez). Hikers passing on the trail reveal that two people were murdered on another island the day before and that the police are looking for a man and a woman as suspects. And so begins the guessing game as Cliff and Cydney begin to question which of the two other couples are actually a threat. Suspicions rise and fall as they learn one is on parole, one has a concealed knife, one is an expert at gutting animals, one was apparently a special forces commando… we’re inundated with reasons to suspect them all and soon our heroes are running and climbing and fighting and kayaking for their lives.
A Perfect Getaway is almost one giant, winking, red snapper (to be explained momentarily) of a movie. Twohy’s screenplay tries to convince you of many things, but mostly he wants you to believe his script is so much smarter than you and the rest of the audience. That’s different than thinking the audience is filled with idiots by the way, something Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is guilty of (and got away with). The story’s much ballyhooed “big twist” is telegraphed very early on (as early as the trailer from a couple months back actually) and threatens briefly to derail the rest of the movie. If your enjoyment of this type of movie depends exclusively on said twist’s successful execution then you may want to skip it all together, but if you can accept a mediocre twist that you saw coming from an hour away as just another piece of an interesting and ongoing plot then A Perfect Getaway may yet surprise you.
Cliff is a screenwriter and more than a few of his exchanges with Nick are actually about the craft itself with particular attention paid to the thriller genre. (Hey, isn’t A Perfect Getaway a thriller? Oooh…) This is generally frowned upon in screenwriting circles, but Twohy gives a fat middle finger to the unspoken rules and acts like he’s the first writer to ever think of it. They actually talk about the story needing a big surprise that the audience doesn’t expect, Nick references the inclusion of multiple “red snappers” (which Cliff corrects to red herrings) to mislead the audience, and when a passerby on the trail is asked how much further the beach is he replies that it’s just a couple miles, but that the path ahead is filled with lots of twists and turns… It’s mildly amusing at first, but the self-referential shtick gets old fast. Twohy thinks he’s dropping subtle hints about what’s to come, but we’re already so far ahead of him the effort just seems quaint and annoying. His other big screenwriting no-no is the inclusion of a ten-minute chunk of blue-tinted flashback. It’s meant to fill in the missing parts of the story he couldn’t show you earlier, but ten minutes is laughably excessive. It’s pure exposition for the sake of plugging holes necessitated by the twist in the first place.
Twohy’s directorial choices don’t always work either. A chase erupts late in the film between three key players and the screen breaks into a moving triptych (thanks Abaius!) consisting of sweaty faces and transition wipes. There’s nothing wrong with the effect itself, but nothing else in the movie resembles it. Twohy should have tossed it or added one or two more panel-shots earlier in the film. He also should have spent more time inspecting his handful of visual effects shots. Hawaii is a naturally beautiful backdrop throughout most of the movie, but Twohy’s desire for particular mountains and forests apparently couldn’t be accommodated so we’re stuck with multiple obvious matte paintings. There’s also a very odd and very clear helicopter POV shot of a woman running below… and she looks like bad CGI. Toss in the terribly miscast Jovovich who is a good fit for the brainless zombie action in the Resident Evil series but is utterly incapable of portraying a realistic woman, and you’d be understandably concerned with the quality of this movie.
And yet… I still enjoyed the hell out of it.
So what exactly saves the movie from collapsing under the weight of Twohy’s presumed genius? Three things. When it’s not trying to impress you with its implied intelligence, the script is filled with humorous and human dialogue between characters. The film’s last act (after the reveal) is exciting, fast-paced, and suspenseful. And finally, and most importantly, Timothy Olyphant is one incredibly charismatic son of a bitch. (Okay, one last reason… when Sanchez first appears onscreen she’s bare-ass naked floating in a spring. She looks like Hilary Swank if Swank was smoking hot).
Zahn’s natural snark and Olyphant’s dry delivery both make the most of some very humorous dialogue. The two of them have fantastic comedic chemistry together and provide almost all of the movie’s intentional laughs. It’s a delicate balance adding humor into a life-and-death thriller, but Twohy gets that balance right. You’ll find yourself laughing and sitting wide-eyed in equal measure. Once the not-so-secret secret is out, the movie kicks into high gear with foot chases, brawls, guns, knives, cat fights, etc. People you’ve come to like very much are in the cross-hairs (quite literally towards the very end), and Twohy finds real suspense in their plight.
But Olyphant deserves his own paragraph here as I really think the movie as a whole could have been lost without him. He’s always been an interesting actor in both big and small roles, but he excels as the intelligent and optimistic ex-soldier who may or may not be a psychopathic killer. Nick’s constant tales of past exploits may be pure fiction, but you believe Olyphant capable of everything he says. He’s a thin guy but ripped to hell which makes him physically imposing, but his smile and demeanor are so damn disarming that I’d probably let him get to second base before slapping his hand away. I already mentioned his chemistry with Zahn, but he also works really well with Sanchez as a couple in love. (Quick unrelated side note, anyone else find themselves subconsciously imitating Olyphant’s very identifiable and peculiar straight-backed walking style after seeing him on-screen? Anyone? Just me? Never mind…)
So as with every other movie out there A Perfect Getaway won’t appeal to everyone. It’s far from the ever-elusive smart thriller that seems so rare these days (even though Twohy thinks it is), but for a night of silly and harmless fun at the movies it’s definitely worthwhile. The packed house I watched it with seemed to either accept the twist or forgive it without issue. They rode the adventure along with the characters, cheering on the good guys and against the bad, and even gave a smattering of applause at the end. It’s the film equivalent of a quick and easy summer beach read, and that’s not a bad thing.