Perfect Getaway, A

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 08/24/09 02:22:26

"Watch out for red snappers!"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

If you’ve spotted the double-edged, look-twice wordplay of the title “A Perfect Getaway,” you’re ready for the winking little thriller that follows. Writer/director David Twohy frontloads his movie with snarky warnings about red herrings, and we giggle: we all know we’re here to see if we can outguess the script, and Twohy acknowledges that with a toothy grin. When our leads are told to watch out for “twists and turns ahead,” we know they’re not really talking about the mountain trail.

The screenplay threatens to get smarmy in its meta-ness, but it’s not smug as much as it is mischievous. We’re handed a main character who’s also a screenwriter, resulting in numerous discussions of the three-act structure, which we of course impose on the story we’re watching. When a possible suspect begins chatting about “red snappers” - our hero corrects him that they’re called red herrings, but the red herrings here sure do snap - we’re forced to double guess Twohy’s intentions. Is the filmmaker cluing us in that the suspect isn’t really a danger? Or is he tricking us with reverse psychology, allowing the real killer to chat about why you shouldn’t suspect him? Or does Twohy think we’ll be thinking that, too, and is triple-psyching us out? And which cup contains the iocane powder?

There’s much fun to be had in guessing whodunit, but more impressive is just how much detail is revealed once the solution is announced. Quickly replaying the entire first half in our heads, we realize the whole thing’s been working in pure “he’ll kill us if he got the chance” with scenes ingeniously designed to contain double meanings. The true intents are uncovered, but how shrewd to hide those intents in plain sight, for us to misread the first time around.

Wisely, Twohy - who previously made the crafty cult favorites “Pitch Black” and “Below” before getting sidetracked with the folly of trying to turn “The Chronicles of Riddick” into a blockbuster franchise - does not hinge the entire film on this single game. Many twist-centric movies fail to work because they’re not interesting if you remove the twist. Twohy, however, knows how to build the right kind of tension, and he turns “Getaway” into an ace thriller with two equally effective halves.

In the first, we meet honeymooners Cliff (Steve Zahn) and Cydney (Milla Jovovich) as they plan a three-day hiking adventure to a remote beach on Kauai. There’s news of murders in Honolulu, committed by a young white couple - which makes our heroes nervous when they encounter two possible suspect couples. Cleo (Marley Shelton) and Kale (Chris Hemsworth) look dangerous, especially with Kale’s quick temper; Nick (Timothy Olyphant) and Gina (Kiele Sanchez) seem nicer, until Nick’s tall tales of special ops adventure leave his sanity questionable. (It doesn’t help that Gina loves to laugh about how Nick is so “hard to kill.”) But which couple are the killers? And is someone following them in the woods?

This is where Twohy works in his playful banter about twists and turns, teasing us as he offers clues and non-clues, making us wonder if Cliff and Cydney’s decision to join Nick and Gina on the mountain trail is wise or a quick path to Victimville. But it’s not all winking and grinning. Twohy cranks up the tension repeatedly; every time our heroes decide to split up, or reveal secrets to their new “friends,” or do anything that exposes them in any way, we grip our seats a little more tightly.

Following the eventual reveal, the remainder of the movie is standard cat-and-mouse stuff, with the killers and prey struggling to outwit/outchase each other. This section crackles with energy and seat-jumping shocks, with Twohy and editor Tracy Adams (who slips in some real showboat cuts, adding some fantastic visual sizzle) picking up the pace and letting everything rip loose in a devilishly frantic finale. Both halves of the film are brutally funny and wildly exciting, often at the same time.

Shot on location in Hawaii and Puerto Rico, the whole thing looks downright gorgeous - it’d be a great travelogue if not for the whole murder thing. The cast is superb all around, deftly handling the double entrendre scenes with much verve while effortlessly earning our attention. Most notable here is Olyphant, whose “charming creepiness” makes us love and fear him at once.

They’re all in on the “guess the killer” joke, and they’re all smart enough to let the joke work without pushing it themselves. “A Perfect Getaway” works so well because it’s smart, knows it’s smart, announces to us that it’s smart - then backs off and lets the suspense and dark comedy mix. Just watch out for those red snappers.

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