Six strangers. Two killers. More closeted red herrings than a secretly gay law school professor.
In the post-M. Night Shyamalan Hollywood, it’s difficult as hell to set up and execute a thriller that won’t bore a jaded audience, who have already been dealt nearly every conceivable plot twist and grown weary with the absurdity of it all. Rogue Pictures, who delivered with The Strangers, doesn’t score a home run with A Perfect Getaway but doesn’t totally miss the ball either. This movie will satisfy audiences seeking refuge from summer blockbusters but won’t truly surprise anyone who’s familiar with the genre. Written by hit-and-miss director David Twohy (Pitch Black), A Perfect Getaway is rather exhilarating in an escapist, B-movie sense, but it’s still a thriller, so it’s inevitable that this film falls victim to the genre’s constraints. That is, only so many possible permutations exist to solve the mystery, so the story, in hindsight, will inevitably appear predictable. Twohy, desperate to avoid such predictability, indulges in a few too many cunning touches, red herrings, and shiny bits of postmodernism. At the same time, Twohy recognizes that he can’t fool everyone, and, no matter which of his six main characters, ultimately, are identified as “the killers,” some people are still going to roll their eyes. I’ll admit that, within the first fifteen minutes of the film, I correctly guessed the main twist of the film, but the smaller twists and turns of the story, well, I didn’t see those coming. And it’s those details that successfully capture an audience and provide for a few jumps and creepy reveals along the way.
Twohy places six hikers in a remote part of Hawaii. Two murderers are on the loose; will the killers turn out to be the creepy newlyweds, the sinister non-marrieds, or the violent hippies? Yes, this shit’s been done and redone, but what separates A Perfect Getaway from the claustrophobic thriller conventions of, say, Murder on the Orient Express is the fresh setting. Instead of a confined space, we’ve got six strangers hiking a gorgeous yet notoriously dangerous trail that leads to a gorgeous dead end of a beach, where only the most daring hikers tread.
Cliff (Steve Zahn) and Cydney (Milla Jovovich) are disgustingly happy newlyweds. He’s a neophyte screenwriter, and she’s already picking out names for their future children. As is the case with freshly married types (who haven’t yet had their spirit broken), Cliff and Cydney are nauseatingly affectionate with one another. She’s too clingy, and he’s an annoyingly “Aww, shucks” sort of guy. The pair goes looking for adventure on their Kauai hike and soon hear news that a couple of killers are targeting honeymooners, but they continue on their way because, dammit, Cydney really wants to see the romantic waterfall on the beach where the trail ends. Before long, they’re joined by fellow hikers Nick (Timothy Olyphant) and Gina (Kiele Sanchez), long-term, not-yet-married lovers, whose status is an obvious source of tension. Still, the couple seems well suited for each other and, although Nick and Gina’s nonchalant skinny dipping creates a sense of vague discomfort for Cliff and Cydney, they recognize that Nick and Gina’s survivalist skills will probably come in handy. Both couples agree that they feel safer with the other couple in tow, but, naturally, each duo begins to suspect the other of being the “gruesome twosome.” Meanwhile, a pair of freshly married yet visibly hostile hitchhikers, Kale (Chris Hemsworth) and Cleo (Marley Shelton), repeatedly appear, and then all six hikers begin to wonder if some unidentified party might be following all of them.
Twohy has created some rather duplicitous players here. Jovovich is competent with an annoyingly-named character, who isn’t as perfect as she pretends; Sanchez gives a Southern spin to her dangerously sexy Gina; Shelton is like a grungier, dreadlocked version of A.J. Langer’s character from “My So-Called Life.” All three women aren’t afraid to kick some ass when necessary, but the dudes, particularly Timothy Olyphant (and his naked ass), are the ones who fill the screenplay’s holes and provide the necessary uncertainty for the audience. Olyphant (not just his naked ass) is simply marvelous here as Nick, an Iraqi war vet with a Special Ops background, a metal plate in his head, and a bit of a knife fetish. Once he figures out that Cliff is a screenwriter, Nick launches into many tall tales, which he hopes that Cliff will one day use in a script. For his part, Cliff tries to keep up with Nick’s physicality and constant logistic challenges concerning Cliff’s recently picked-up script. Nick, of course, is undaunted and advises Cliff to get a better story, because those killers on the loose would make for “one hell of a Second Act,” and and maybe even “bring in another character just to fuck with the audience.” This sounds more horrible than it appears onscreen, for Olyphant’s swagger keeps these meta-references from appearing too obnoxious, and, after all, he’s only trying to help out: “You gotta get the details right. Otherwise, we’re just making another craptastic movie.” A Perfect Getaway is imperfect but not craptastic, and, in fact, it’s a pretty killer movie until the last fifteen minutes or so, when Twohy starts getting crazy with the triple split-screens, extended flashbacks, and one huge, glaring inconsistency in the killers’ modus operandi. Aloha.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.