August 13, 2009

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A Perfect Getaway (R)
A tropical paradise turns into a jungle of suspicion and misdirection in A Perfect Getaway, a not-so-bad thriller starring Steve Zahn.

Cliff (Zahn) and Cydney (Milla Jovovich) are the picture of newly-wedded bliss as they drive around Hawaii filming their tropical vacation and making plans to hike to a secluded beach. But all is not perfect on this lush island. As a newspaper (that of course our couple misses seeing before heading out) screams in a giant headline, another honeymooning couple has just been murdered in Honolulu. Who done it? When Cliff finally checks out the report, it seems that a man and woman are suspected of killing the honeymooners. Is that couple Kale (Chris Hemsworth) and Cleo (Marley Shelton), the hippie hitchhikers that Cliff and Cydney stop for but then only reluctantly offer a ride to on the way to the hiking trail? Is it Nick (Timothy Olyphant) and Gina (Kiele Sanchez), the strange couple with a dark edge that Cliff and Cydney meet as they start their hike? Or maybe the guy back at the store where they got their hiking gear looked a little too hungry when he saw the couple’s wad of wedding cash.

You go into this movie knowing that something horrible is going to happen. So part of the suspense of the movie is waiting for the First Big Thing that will clue you in to what the bad thing is and who is going to be behind it. You know this and the movie knows you know this and soon you come to know that the movie knows you know this. Cliff is a screenwriter, a profession which allows for lots of discussion of story constructions and third-act twists and red herrings. It’s all very winky and check-out-how-clever-we-are and while I didn’t hate this I did wish the movie had perhaps spent a little less time telling me that it was doing something clever and more time just doing the clever thing. Likewise, the twist is given more exposition than it requires. A few scenes snipped from the “and here’s the big reveal” segment would have moved things along. As it is, the movie gives us a big “ta da!” and then stands there, top hat and magic wand in hand while the rabbit blinks at us. It hits pause just as we get to the climax in a way that deflates the tension instead of causing us to revel in the surprise.

That said, A Perfect Getaway has its moments of smartypants fun. I like how it tells you “this is a clue — or maybe not; ha ha!” and has you laughing in spite of yourself at some of the familiar thriller clichés.

And then there’s Steve Zahn, sneaking through the jungle and nervously obsessing with Cydney over whether or not they’ve sunk in to an inescapable situation. Sure, he’s your go-to comedy/dramedy character actor, your reliable sidekick guy, but he’s just fine here as well, pulling off something like the lead with aplomb (though it’s hard for anybody else to lead when Timothy Olyphant’s scenery-chewing bigness is around).

Like the vacation it offers (but doesn’t give) to its characters, A Perfect Getaway is a fun little escape. C+

Rated R for graphic violence, language including sexual references and some drug use. Written and directed by David Twohy, A Perfect Getaway is an hour and 38 minutes long and is distributed by Rogue Pictures.