Retro Review: A PERFECT GETAWAY (2009){0}

In watching A Perfect Getaway I can’t help but be taken back to 1988, a time in which we received a rather basic and unassuming action thriller from Touchstone (Disney) called Shoot to Kill. In that film, a brutal killer has taken a Pacific Northwest hiking guide hostage, and it’s up to a manly tracker (Tom Berenger) and a seasoned FBI agent (Sidney Poitier) to chase the villain down. Aside from being a well-cast, well-paced, and rather picturesque thriller, the flick also has one very cool gimmick; For the first half of the film, we have no idea which “generic hiker” is the killer. Thanks to canny direction by Roger Spottiswoode and a nifty screenplay, the villain of the piece remains hidden among familiar-faced character actors such as Richard Masur, Clancy Brown, Andrew Robinson, and a few others. Shoot to Kill has a darn good time teasing its audience on which bland hiker might be the killer … and the film’s best scene arrives once the baddie comes out in the open.

I mention this underrated flick mainly because the latest from writer/director David Twohy seems to be at least partially inspired by the memorable-yet-still forgotten little Shoot to Kill gimmick. In A Perfect Getaway we’re introduced to three very different couples, and then we’re left to twist in the wind while trying to figure out which couple is crazy, which couple is the prey, and which couple is just along to keep things interesting. And just like with Shoot to Kill, A Perfect Getaway is at its best when it’s forcing us to keep guessing. Luckily, Twohy is enough of a veteran to keep things moving along with a minimal degree of muss, fuss or narrative stupidity. And it says a lot about the alleged power of bloated budgets that the relatively inexpensive A Perfect Getaway is infinitely more appealing than the director’s last film … the mega-pricey and ultra-silly Chronicles of Riddick.

So while A Perfect Getaway feels a lot like a bottom-drawer script that Twohy pulled out of mothballs, there’s always something to be said for a psycho thriller that delivers interesting characters in a captivating setting … even if their words and actions aren’t exactly the pinnacle of screenwriting originality. We start with the newlywed couple Cliff (Steve Zahn) and Sydney (Milla Jovovich), who are intent on spending their honeymoon deep in the arms of Hawaii’s most remote locations. Along the way they meet up with a trashy couple (Chris Hemsworth and Marley Shelton) and then a colorful sorta-hayseed duo (Timothy Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez), and then a few clues about a recent murder come across the jungle, and we’re off on a slightly cerebral game of crazy cat vs. mental mouse. Meanwhile, Hawaii looks really beautiful in the background.

It’s an appreciably simple film: Act I sets up our main couple and their obvious chemistry, Act II plays with your expectations from this genre (going so far as to have Zahn and Olyphant discuss things like “red herrings” and the need for an “Act II twist”), and then the cards are laid bare for Act III, which sets the stage for a standard yet satisfying collection of horrors, discoveries, surprises, chases, and brawls. Most of what I like about A Perfect Getaway is what I also liked about Jennifer Lynch’s Surveillance: We ALL know some surprises are coming, so let’s see if we can’t play with those specific expectations along the way. Plus it’s really fun to see these well-known character players like Zahn, Olyphant and Jovovich subvert a few expectations of their own. (Newcomer Kiele Sanchez also has a rather large role, and does a bang-up job with it — and boy does Marley Shelton look nice in a bikini.)

But there’s some bad news too. Once the film is over and all the twists have been expended, you’ll think back to a few of the flick’s dialog exchanges and think “oh, that’s a cheat.” Plus Twohy leans a little too hard on the over-expository flashbacks button once the “big reveal” arrives … and then there’s the simple factor of A Perfect Getaway‘s “been there, done that” vibe. For every clever touch or compelling piece of banter, there are other scenes, moments, exchanges that reek of reshoots or simple laziness. The movie is instantly forgettable but certainly diverting enough for an open movie slot (more likely a rental or a cable night option, truth be told), and while the actors bring a freshness (and eventually some real weirdness) to the concept, the familiarity of the story (and its aching over-reliance on its eventual twist) makes it more like an adequate getaway moreso than a perfect one.