DVD Review: A Perfect Getaway
A Perfect Getaway is a twisty thriller that’s so much better than it has any business being that it came within a hair’s breadth of sneaking in to the No. 10 spot on my list of the best movies of 2009. Not so much because it’s really, mind-blowingly great, but rather because I was so pleasantly surprised with it. The fact that the twist at the end is so gettable that most sharp viewers will probably figure out shortly after the opening credits (it would have been a bit more effective if all the marketing for the movie didn’t tell you that there was a big twist at the end) and the fact that movie is still as watchable and fun as it is is actually quite an achievement for writer/director David Twohy, last seen helming the awful/hilarious would-be sci-fi epic The Chronicles of Riddick.
The movie follows a newlywed couple (Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich) on their honeymoon in a remote part of Hawaii. As they’re traveling in the jungle, they hear about a pair of killers in the area posing as a couple. Considering that by this point they’ve met not one but two other couples who seem like they could be murderers, things start to get predictably tense – especially after they can’t seem to shake either of the other couples. The more normal-seeming couple is played by Timothy Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez. He’s a special forces type (or “American jedi” as he calls himself) who seems far too at ease around violence, and she’s a free-spirited southern belle who seems like she could be hiding something. Then there’s the even scarier couple played by Chris Hemsworth and Marley Shelton, who look like a pair of crazy meth dealers on vacation. As you can imagine, many psychological games of cat-and-mouse are played, and things are pretty much never what they seem.
What holds A Perfect Getaway together is the combination solid performances (from actors clearly having a great time) and Twohy’s smarter-than-you’d-expect script. Steve Zahn’s an actor I enjoy in just about anything I see him in, and he’s great as a bookish, slightly awkward screenwriter who keeps finding himself in situations he’d rather not be in. Olyphant is the other highlight, managing to be hilarious and charming and sort of scary all at the same time.
Twohy, despite having made The Chronicles of Riddick, also made its predecessor, the far superior little sci-fi/horror flick Pitch Black (it wisely chooses the path of ripping off Alien rather than Chronicles, which ripped off Star Wars), and A Perfect Getaway is in a similar vein. The tension comes from not being sure what will happen next, and even if you, as I did, called the twist from the opening minutes, it’s still fun to see how Twohy gets from Point A to Point B and how everything gets explained.
Twohy also uses a device that, in other hands, could have been grating and heavy-handed, but he handles it fairly well: Zahn’s character is meant to be a screenwriter, which fascinates Olyphant, and the two keep discussing the mechanics of movie storytelling (Olyphant has a cute running gag where he keeps mistakenly referring to plot misdirection as “red snappers,” which is what I’ve called them ever since watching this film), often covering what happens in movies exactly like the one you’re watching. Twohy uses his little gimmick just enough to wink at the audience and let them know that he knows that they know what kind of movie they’re watching (like when a character reveals something about themselves that will clearly come into play later in the movie, or when Olyphant refers to something that would “make a hell of an Act Two twist”). Normally I hate that sort of thing, but somehow in A Perfect Getaway it works, contributing to the film’s sense of fun.
A Perfect Getaway confirms that David Twohy’s strengths as a filmmaker lie in taut little flicks like this one, not with ostensible sci-fi epics. He definitely knows what he’s doing in terms of craftsmanship – there’s some really gorgeous shots of the jungle in this movie, and he can build tension like a mofo, despite the fact that a big chunk of the movie is basically just Zahn, Olyphant, Jovovich and Sanchez hanging around in the jungle being suspicious of each other – and the extended sequence at the end where he reveals everything is particularly well-constructed. Any time I can correctly guess the twist this early and still manage to have a this good a time watching the movie, that movie is definitely doing a lot of things right.
The only extra on the DVD for A Perfect Getaway is the original scripted ending (which isn’t much different from the ending in the film, except that it’s far more vague and less satisfying than the one that was eventually used), which is sort of a shame. I’d have loved to see a commentary from Twohy or a making-of featurette.
Labels: DVD review