Sunday, March 21, 2010

Review: A Perfect Getaway (2009)

Director: David Twohy
Starring: Steve Zahn, Timothy Olyphant, Milla Jovovich, Kiele Sanchez

Moral of the story: Don't go to Hawaii for your honeymoon, or else you'll probably get stalked by two drug-addled killers and subsequently killed by them. Yes, something is in the water in the tropical paradise southwards of the States, with bodies turning up and a general feel of unease mucking up the otherwise perfect honeymoons of people like Cliff and Cydney, newlyweds who are embarking on a rather twisted trip...

Yes, this is A Perfect Getaway, a movie that is much better than it rightfully should be. Witness the crystal clear blue oceans, the slightly grey tint of the clouds against the golden sun, the greens and blues of the wilderness and the white sands of the beaches...and then put that against fearful paranoia and intense thoughts of 'who is he really?' I think that's the first advantage this movie has over others. Yeah, at first it looks a little generic, but once the Hawaii landscapes unfold, it's actually a really good place for a horror/thriller movie. It's been done in similar places, but something about this particular setting just balances the wrongness with the pleasant side of the state very, very well.

The story itself focuses on Cliff (Steve Zahn) as the whitest of the white guys ever to exist, a newlywed with his wife Cydney (Milla Jovovich) going to Hawaii to enjoy the scenery. They meet up with a shady couple that Cliff thinks is "suitable for framing." Then, they meet Timothy Olyphant, which would be enough to scare me alone, except for the fact that he actually does a wonderful job in this movie. He's playing Nick, a bad-ass, rough-n-tumble ex-military vacationing with his girlfriend Gina (Kiele Sanchez). Each couple has doubts about one another, and paranoia escalates as the film's runtime does - seen it before, but what surprised me here was exactly how well this is all done.

See, the best part about this film is not the twist, but rather everything David Twohy built up around. I like this film for its subtle character writing. I'm going to have to spoil the twist to really go into depth here, so I'll just tell you that Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich are the real killers, and the rest of the movie was mostly just a twisted cover-up of that fact to fool the viewer. Underhanded? Maybe. But look at Jovovich's character once this is revealed: she is pathetically in need of attachment, and as she puts it, "my need for attachment fits [Zahn's] need for detachment. Let's just admit it." She goes along with his psychobabble about immortality and stealing identities because it offers her the illusion of a real married life, and of love - which she wouldn't get with Zahn in reality. She is forced to get her satisfaction from lies and illusion, and the hints the movie throws at us before the final reveal become crushingly tragic on further viewings.

"It's sick and it's sad," she says, and that about sums up the entirety of the film. Steve Zahn's Rocky character ("Cliff's" real name) is a cold hearted psychopath with no real human feelings - "I love the idea of loving you," he tells Jovovich. "Why isn't that enough?" She asks him to be honest, even if he isn't. She begs him to play along and 'act like a married couple' because all she wants is, well, a normal married life, even if all he's doing is an insane power-trip fueled by murder and bloodlust. The way they play off each other is just brilliant, and it makes the rest of the movie that much more rewarding once it is revealed, and the juxtaposition between their twisted 'love' and the more genuine feelings between Olyphant and Sanchez makes the whole thing that much more gripping and engaging to watch. There's a looooong flashback sequence that establishes all of this, and the great writing and dialogue makes it a real treat to watch even as it deviates from the exciting chase of the rest of the film. A thriller with elaborated depth to the characters and their relationships - who would've thought?

Just the fact that this was elaborated on so much in the revealing of the twist does admittedly make the bonkers climax a little disappointing, but even then, it's still pretty well done and entertains even in the most Hollywoodized moments of the entire film. A Perfect Getaway works because it combines high-octane thrills with in-depth character study to make for a really entertaining film. It does have its problems in the numerous references in the dialogue to 'a twist in the second act' and other things pertaining to Zahn's fake screenwriter personality, and in the weird editing where you get like three panels on screen at once showing different things - but the good things about it save it. And it is stylish enough not to hamper anything too much, anyway.

All in all, a success! Now to keep looking over my shoulder and distrusting everyone to make sure they're not out to kill me and steal my identity...