Universal // 2009 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // December 29th, 2009
Let the games begin.
"That could be anybody."
Cliff (Steve Zahn, Rescue Dawn) and Cydney (Milla Jovovich, Resident Evil) have just gotten married. While on their honeymoon in Hawaii, they hear some terrible news: a murderous man and woman are on the loose hunting helpless victims in Hawaii. When Cliff and Cydney meet up with a friendly but suspicious former military man named Nick (Timothy Olyphant, Deadwood) and his girlfriend Gina (Kiele Sanchez, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium), an uneasy alliance is formed. If Nick and Gina are on the level, Nick's military skills could come in handy in defending the group against the killers. But what if they're not?
I honestly didn't expect a whole lot from A Perfect Getaway, which looked like a thoroughly formulaic B-movie in the trailers. Fortunately, the film proved to be a pleasant surprise. Though it's hardly going to win any awards, A Perfect Getaway is an entertaining, involving little thriller with intriguing characters and a genuine sense of tension. It only took a few minutes for the movie to put me on the edge of my seat, which is precisely where I stayed for the remainder of the runtime.
One of the most initially refreshing things about A Perfect Getaway is the self-aware screenplay. Cliff is a struggling Hollywood screenwriter, which provides the opportunity for Cliff and Nick to talk about the art of writing movies. Their conversations are slightly reminiscent of those in Scream, as they ponder what might happen next if their tense real-life situation were a movie. "Right about now there would probably be a red snapper to throw us off the trail of the real killer," Nick says. "Red herring," Cliff mutters. The movie never actually breaks the fourth wall, but it was a relief to find smart characters who do no behave like standard-issue horror movie stereotypes. The killers are smart, but so are the potential victims.
The film not only benefits from having intelligent characters, but also well-developed ones. I particularly like the savvy manner in which the conversations between Nick and Cliff are handled, which may seem somewhat familiar to cinephiles. Nick loves talking about movies, but his taste is clearly pretty mainstream ("You can't do better than Nicolas Cage in my book,") and his knowledge of how the medium works is fairly minimal. Cliff politely attempts to humor Nick, clearly restraining himself from making obviously condescending remarks. Olyphant and Zahn are definitely the stars of the show, playing off each other in a compelling way throughout the proceedings. It's refreshing to see Zahn getting another chance to play something other than goofy comic relief, but Olyphant in particular has perhaps never been better. I've found him to be a bit one-note in many previous roles, but in A Perfect Getaway he's a funny, smart (except when it comes to movies), and vaguely menacing, "G-d -- -ed American Jedi." He reaches a pitch-perfect level of balance between "cat playing with a mouse," and, "mouse completely unaware that the cat is in the room."
The women also fare pretty well, though they're perhaps less well-developed early on. We see their many subtleties revealed later, but it's difficult to talk about those without revealing too much about what happens in the film. Suffice it to say that neither woman is quite what we initially judge them to be, and that may not mean what you think it does. Elsewhere, the only other players of note are a man and woman Kale (Chris Hemsworth, Star Trek) and Cleo (Marley Shelton, Grindhouse), a couple with a bad relationship that may or may not be that aforementioned red snapper...er, herring.
The director is David Twohy, best known for helming the Vin Diesel blockbusters Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick. I found A Perfect Getaway to be a generally more compelling experience than either of those films, and Twohy seems to bring an exceptional level of energy and inventiveness to the proceedings that is not necessary but which is certainly welcome. As the film rushes towards its frenzied climax, the shots get wilder and the editing gets more feverishly clever, only adding to the downhill momentum of the viewer's adrenaline rush. And then, in an elegant stroke that sidesteps convention, we have an ending that...well, of course I can't say. But I will say that I smiled about the fact that even in the heat of a violent third act, the movie forgoes expected gratuity for something more credible.
The film's Hawaiian setting benefits from the hi-def transfer, though not nearly as much as the filmed-in-Hawaii television drama Lost. Twohy seems to accentuate the less attractive areas a bit more as the film proceeds, perhaps attempting to demonstrate the way this honeymoon paradise is turning into a death trap. Colors may be slightly overdone at times, but detail is sharp and depth is considerable during the darker scenes. The audio is fine, though only the handful of action scenes really come to life and immerse the viewer in the experience. Otherwise, the sound design is just a bit uneventful (not to mention that the thump-n-bump score is rather bland). The only extra included in the set is the original scripted ending (2 minutes), unless you want to count the fact that this disc includes both the 108-minute unrated director's cut and the 98-minute theatrical cut are included on the disc (I reviewed the former).
I saw the big twist coming, and if you're attentive, so will you.
It may not be anything new, but I found this surprisingly satisfying thriller to be a very enjoyable watch. If you're looking for something to do on Friday night, you could do a whole lot worse than this fun flick.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Ending
* Theatrical and Unrated Versions