Writer/director David Twohy is something of a throwback in today’s film industry: he makes modestly budgeted genre films that toy with the conventions of those genres. Thus far his biggest brush with mainstream success and recognition came with Riddick, who was positioned as a big-budget franchise in The Chronicles of Riddick after the film that first featured the character, Pitch Black, was a sleeper hit, doubling it’s $23 million dollar budget at the international box office. The follow-up, however, barely made back its budget. A Perfect Getaway is Twohy’s first effort to hit screens in five years, a modest success that made slightly more than it’s $14 million budget in the States and a little more overseas. It is exactly the kind of film that Larry Cohen used to specialize in, but like his many of his films never quite escapes the genre’s boundaries to greatness.
Cliff Anderson (Steve Zahn, Out of Sight) and Cydney Anderson (Milla Jovovich, The Fifth Element) are newly weds on a honeymoon in Hawaii. They go to the most far-flung island for some hiking on an isolated trail. On the first day they meet two couples-Kale (Chris Hemsworth, Star Trek) and Cleo (Marley Shelton, Valentine) and Nick (Timothy Olyphant, Dreamcatcher) and Gina (Kiele Sánchez, Lost). Kale and Cleo are newlyweds, hitchhiking across the island. Kale is something of a hot head, and he refuses Cliff’s late coming, weak offer of a ride angrily. The Andersons meet Nick and Gina on the trail. Nick spins tall tales of his exploits with black ops units and Gina bonds quickly with Cydney. There’s trouble in paradise, however, as reports reach the hikers of gruesome murders on Maui. The killers are identified as a couple, possibly on a honeymoon, and are believed to be on the island. Soon Nick, Gina, Cliff and Cydney are hiking together-but is it for safety, or is it because one of the two pairs are the killers? Or are the killers Kale and Cleo, who seem to be shadowing them?
Twohy clearly enjoys playing with conventions, and here he’s playing with the many thrillers that feature dull, upper middle class types that run into dangerous people in isolated places on vacation. As so often happens in these films, we get a meek central couple who meet more vital and in some ways primitive/savage people-people who, unlike the leads, can live off the land, or work with their hands, people from the other side of the tracks who are also a bit “touched”. Twohy goes one better than most of these films, giving us not only a seemingly crazed veteran shit kicker and his homey, animal butchering girlfriend, but also some dirty hippie drifter types in a co-dependent relationship. The film uses beautiful tropical locations (though not all on Hawaii, but also Puerto Rico and Jamaica), with some breathtaking shots of waterfalls, mountains and rain forest. There’s a real sense of isolation, and, when the action comes, it’s well mounted.
The cast are mostly character actors. It is always good to see Zahn in a larger part. Olyphant is a good choice for someone who is likable but a bit crazy and hard to tell if you can trust, and Sanchez, who was iffy at best on Lost is surprisingly good as the cheery Gina. Shelton and Hemsworth are cast in smaller parts but each is just off enough to make us suspicious of them. Jovovich is cast in a role that is beyond her acting ability, and it hurts the film-she is more believable as a robot/replicant/other than as someone who’s emotional nature is key to the film’s resolution.
Now to get into spoiler territory:
Twohy decides to turn the genre completely on its head, making the bland Andersons the killers and Gina and Nick the heroes. This also means that Nick is essentially Twohy going back to the Riddick well. Once again we have a character who comes off first as a psycho who is remarkably resilient to damage and a highly trained killing machine but who in the end turns out to be the hero. While this certainly is different, it’s a bit too much like Pitch Black to surprise anyone who’s seen the earlier film. While it’s admirable to play with conventions, Twohy indulges in so many clichés that the film has many groan inducing moments, which aren’t rectified until the third act twist. By the time Twohy gets to subverting the clichés, it’s too late. The Andersons’ methodology and motivations as serial killers are far fetched, and the idea that anyone as distinctive looking as Zahn and Jovovich could successfully and adopt the identities of victim after victim is difficult to believe. Not to mention, the “genius infallible serial killers” angle is itself a tired cliché. Finally, there’s also a bit of “meta” as Cliff’s cover is that of a screenwriter, so there is discussion of red herrings and so on. Even so, there are enough novel moments here that the film almost overcomes these problems.
Despite the somewhat flawed execution and imperfect casting, A Perfect Getaway, is an interesting and fun to watch thriller that stands out from others of its kind because it attempts something novel instead of the same approach used countless times before. Like Larry Cohen, if you see Twohy’s name in the credits, you can always expect something different if imperfect.