by Mel Valentin
Best known for "Pitch Black," a science-fiction/horror film released nine years ago, and the over-ambitious, under-performing Frank Herbert ("Dune") inspired sequel in 2004, "The Chronicles of Riddick," writer-director David Twohy is back after a five-year hiatus with his latest film, "A Perfect Getaway," a modestly budgeted suspense-thriller set in Hawaii (Puerto Rico acting as a stand-in). It’s lean, efficient, one (unequal) part slow-build up and one-part an update of "The Most Dangerous Game," and, minus one or two minor missteps, worthy of consideration for your hard-earned entertainment dollars (or whatever denomination your particular movie theater happens to accept) this weekend or next.Cliff (Steve Zahn), a Hollywood screenwriter, and his wife, Cydney (Milla Jovovich) are newlyweds vacationing in Hawaii. After some relatively safe sightseeing, they decide to hike out to a remote beach. On the way to the trail, they encounter an unpleasant couple, Cleo (Marley Shelton) and Kale (Chris Hemsworth). On the surface, Cleo looks like a harmless hippie, but the tattooed, goateed Kale doesn’t. The couples quickly part company when Kale takes offense at Cliff’s hesitation to offer them a ride, so the two couples go their own way. On the trail, returning tourists mention the brutal murder of another vacationing couple on the island of Oahu, where Cliff and Cydney spent the previous night.
"It's "Scream" meets "The Most Dangerous Game."
All seems fine, however, until Cliff and Cydney run into Nick (Timothy Olyphant), an Iraq war veteran and survivalist, on the trail to the remote beach. Nick saves Cydney from a potentially fatal fall into the ocean, but his constant patter and tall tales about his wartime experiences in Iraq add a note of disquiet to his interactions with Cliff and Cydney. Nick leads Cliff and Cydney to a remote, secluded waterfall where Nick’s longtime girlfriend and one-time military brat, Gina (Kiele Sanchez), awaits. As they hike to the remote beach, Cliff and Cydney begin to become suspicious of Nick and Gina’s intentions. They also cross paths with Kale and Cleo and suspect they’re being followed by person or persons unknown.
In Nick and Cliff, Twohy sets up a classic mind-body duality between the two characters. With his all-bluster, all-the-time cockiness and stories about Iraq, surviving a plane crash, and his seemingly charmed life escaping from life-or-death situations, Nick is a faker, a borderline sociopath, or truth teller. He's also a film buff and one-time screenwriting student eager to talk about three-act structure, plot turns (and twists), red snappers (he means red herrings), meeting his favorite actor (Nicholas Cage, believe it or not) someday, name checks relevant films (Natural Born Killers gets a shout-out), and quotes dialogue from one of his favorite films, Cool Hand Luke. In Cliff, Nick sees a screenwriting partner, someone who'll take the raw material of his hard-to-believe experiences and turn them into a money-making screenplay.
In contrast to Nick, we (as in the audience) half-expect the eyeglass-wearing, semi-insecure, physically unimposing Cliff to turn into Dustin Hoffman’s character from Sam Peckinpah’s underrated Straw Dogs on the killers when they finally reveal themselves and show reserves of skill and will heretofore unseen or hinted at. He's the classic, non-athletic, introspective intellectual (who works with his mind, not his body), driven by circumstance into expressing his animalistic, instinctual side: protecting himself and his wife. That, at least, is the image of Cliff wants the audience to invest in. Whether that's an accurate image of Cliff or Cydney not can't (and shouldn't) be spoiled here.Given the promise of a "twist you won't see coming" (from the TV ads), most moviegoers will be looking for visual and aural clues from the shots of Cliff and Cydney's wedding captured on a camcorder that open "A Perfect Getaway." If the buildup of clues and side glances aren't leave any doubts about the killers’ identities, Twohy includes a long (probably too long), desaturated flashback to explain the couples' backstories and revisit the carefully laid out clues that lead to the big reveal of the killers' identities. Unfortunately, the flashback sequence stops "A Perfect Getaway’s" cold and it takes several minutes for the narrative momentum to recover. Post-flashback, "A Perfect Getaway" finally delivers on its promise of "The Most Dangerous Game"-style action, complete with R-rated blood and gore (judiciously used, only occasionally exploitative) in contemporary Hawaii.
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originally posted: 08/08/09 00:00:00