Perfect Getaway, A (United States, 2009)

August 05, 2009
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Perfect Getaway, A Poster

There are times when a filmmaker tries so hard to surprise everyone that he ends up surprising no one. Such is the case with A Perfect Getaway, a film that exists for one reason: the twist. Writer/director David Twohy (Pitch Black) puts so much effort into obfuscating the truth that he inadvertently reveals it. And, when one looks beyond A Perfect Getaway's surprise, there's not much else - just a run-of-the-mill slasher/thriller with killers stalking victims in the untamed wilds of Hawaii. One assumes the 50th State's Bureau of Tourism will not be promoting this motion picture.

Although I will not explicitly reveal the nature of the twist in this review, it will be possible for some readers to infer it based on how I describe things. (Consider this a warning.) For anyone who understand the "rules" of screenwriting, such as the concept of "conservation of character," the turn that A Perfect Getaway takes 2/3 of the way through its proceedings is easily guessed. In fact, the simple knowledge that there is a "twist" defuses the surprise quality of the revelation. Strangely, Twohy trumpets the existence of such a twist: early in the movie, there is a conversation about screenwriting in which it is stated that "good stories" always have second-act twists. Scream was able to get away with this sort of wink-wink-nudge-nudge tactic when it came to "horror film rules" (as defined beginning with Halloween), but the approach here is less organic. It's a case of the screenwriter talking directly to the audience and informing viewers something unexpected is going to happen, so they can start puzzling out what it will be. Unfortunately, the options are so limited that it doesn't take more than a middling intuition to figure it out.

A Perfect Getaway introduces us to three couples, all of whom are vacationing in Hawaii. They share a common destination: a picturesque beach that is reachable only by a long, winding trail that twists and turns through lonely stretches of wilderness. Aside from the trail, the only other way to get there is by kayak or helicopter. Cliff (Steve Zahn) and Cydney (Milla Jovovich) are newlyweds visiting the islands on their honeymoon. Nick (Timonthy Olyphant) and Gina (Kiele Sanchez) are unmarried adventurers looking for one more destination to add to their globe-trotting resume. And Kale (Chris Hemsworth) and Cleo (Marley Shelton) are surfer/hippie types who show signs of anti-social behavior. All three couples are on the trail when the news filters down: the bloody bodies of two recently murdered newlyweds honeymooning in Hawaii have been found. Understandably, Cliff and Cydney are freaked out, and Cliff begins to suspect Nick & Gina and Kale & Cleo of complicity in the crimes. Certainly, Nick's Special Ops background and proficiency with weapons make him a suspect, and Kale's unpleasant disposition and volcanic temper merit his consideration.

A Perfect Getaway is about perspective. It hides key clues and details from viewers until after the surprise is revealed, then transitions to a more neutral narrative point-of-view. Although this is not strictly the case of an "unreliable narrator" (as in a film like He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not), it is a case in which the director intentionally misleads the audience. The script mentions the concept of the "red herring" and, sure enough, it comes into play. Although some might consider Twohy's inclusion of screenwriting 101 concepts to be playful, this is actually an occasion when the filmmaker is being too clever for his own good.

Once the "reveal" occurs, Twohy feels the need to spend about ten minutes flashing back to previous events so we can see how they actually transpired now that there's no longer nay need to keep the audience in the dark. When a "secret" requires this much exposition, it isn't as effective as is intended. This lengthy sequence indicates that either Twohy doesn't trust the intelligence of his audience (that they could piece everything together without prompting) or doesn't trust the integrity of his screenplay. The reality is probably somewhere in between.

The cast members do what they were hired to do. Steve Zahn plays the "nice guy" - a nerdy, bookish man who is made uncomfortable by spontaneity. Milla Jovovich is his equally geeky, but somewhat more adventurous, mate. Timothy Olyphant is off-the-wall in a way that's half-dangerous/half-sexy. Kiele Sanchez gives off a similar vibe, although her first appearance is more revealing than Olyphant's. Marley Shelton is ditsy and Chris Hemsworth shows a misanthropic streak. Of course, by the end of the film, none of the characters resemble what they appear to be at the beginning. The transformations are, at least, handled logically.

By placing all of his proverbial eggs in one basket, Twohy ensures that a viewer's enjoyment is intimately tied into how he/she reacts to the twist. Those few who are surprised may think the movie takes some daring chances and ventures into unconventional territory. Those who figure it out early may wonder how a film with such a thin premise made it into production. The scenery is gorgeous, but that's hardly a reason to make a movie. All the greenery doesn't enliven the tired cliché of a knife and gun-wielding psycho chasing a potential victim, and that's what A Perfect Getaway amounts to when reduced to its essence. There's a late-game opportunity for Twohy to do something truly surprising but, perhaps because he wants there to be a ray of sunshine, he doesn't opt to venture completely into the Twilight Zone. That final capitulation robs A Perfect Getaway of any uniqueness it might have otherwise possessed. This could have been a triumph of structure over story if only the importance of the structure had been better camouflaged.

Perfect Getaway, A (United States, 2009)

Director: David Twohy
Cast: Steve Zahn, Milla Jovovich, Timothy Olyphant, Kiele Sanchez, Marly Shelton, Chris Hemsworth
Screenplay: David Twohy
Cinematography: Mark Plummer
Music: Boris Elkis
U.S. Distributor: Rogue Pictures
Run Time: 1:37
U.S. Release Date: 2009-08-07
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1