A Perfect Getaway

2009, Movie, R, 97 mins

Review

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Paradise has rarely looked as gorgeously ominous as it does in A Perfect Getaway, director David Twohy's return to the small-scale thriller following the bloated would-be sci-fi epic The Chronicles of Riddick. Anyone who has followed Twohy's career over the years knows that he's at his best when dealing with tense situations in an intimate environment, and with the story of real-life murdered honeymooners Ben and Catherine Mullany still in the news thanks to a surprising controversy, the plausibility of such a heinous crime lends the film an extra punch of morbid realism. But filmmakers will be filmmakers, and while Twohy nearly deep-sixes the whole endeavor by straining for cleverness, A Perfect Getaway somehow pulls back from the brink to deliver some solid scenic thrills.

Honeymooning newlyweds Cliff (Steve Zahn) and Cydney (Milla Jovovich) are hiking an 11-mile trail in Hawaii when they cross paths with ex-military man Nick (Timothy Olyphant), who earns their trust by helping the couple navigate a particularly treacherous mountain cliff. A few yards later, the trio runs into a group of girls whose parents are begging them to return home following reports that a honeymooning couple has been murdered on one of the other islands. The suspects in the killings are a young white couple, and when Cliff and Cydney meet Nick's free-spirited girlfriend, Gina (Kiele Sanchez), tensions start to rise. Meanwhile, yet another vacationing couple (Chris Hemsworth and Marley Shelton) appears to be shadowing the foursome as they forge their way ever deeper down the secluded path.

If the setup for A Perfect Getaway seems to have been cribbed from a Suspense 101 writing course, that's because as a writer, Twohy seems to know that simplicity is the key to effectively drawing an audience in -- it worked in Pitch Black and Below (which he co-wrote with Darren Aronofsky and Lucas Sussman), and it works here, too. Twohy wastes precious little time in creating tension, and whether it's an unsettling encounter with a pair of suspicious hitchhikers or a sidelong glance from a resort hand, we're already on edge by the time we discover that vicious slayings do occur even in Shangri-la.

As the story begins to unfold, clues are dropped and red herrings abound, offering keen-eyed viewers a fun opportunity to flex their grey matter. If it's a little too self-aware in its explicit references to the art of screenwriting, it's all part of the game, and helps us to get a better idea of the characters as well; Zahn and Jovovich play the roles of the slightly naive couple to perfection, while Olyphant and Sanchez gain a few nervous laughs as the couple that isn't afraid to slaughter a goat for sustenance while camping out. Alas, A Perfect Getaway isn't as much a survival story as it is a carefully crafted suspense film, and in taking a five-minute detour to deliver a twist that would have benefited greatly from a less-is-more approach, Twohy effectively diffuses all tension in a vain attempt to assert his shrewd skills as a storyteller. Fortunately the action picks up again quickly enough after the pause, leaving us feeling more thrilled than cheated thanks to a unique character transformation and a particularly gruesome final confrontation. To release a thriller with the word "Perfect" in the title is a risky move -- particularly if the final product is less than stellar -- and while A Perfect Getaway may not be as flawless as its title implies, it does manage to maintain an effective air of tension throughout its compact running time. leave a comment --Jason Buchanan

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