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MOVIE REVIEW
A Perfect Getaway (2009)

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Rogue Pictures

There’s a frustrating-beyond-words moment in George A. Romero’s “Diary of the Dead” that broadcasts the cinéma vérité film’s glaring lack of subtlety. In the film's final act, a zombie dressed as a mummy chases a blonde Southern belle through a wooded area — a direct reference to a scene from the cameraman's faux student film within the film. As if the viewer can't draw the parallel on his or her own, a lazy bit of dialogue sledgehammers the obvious over heads: “This is just like in your stupid mummy movie!” Cue the collective audience groans.

Writer-director David Twohy’s “A Perfect Getaway” is 90-plus minutes of that. An uneventful killers-in-beautiful-scenery “thriller” that, for no explicable reason, feels the need to telegraph the surprises through its own character dialogue. If the film was impactful as a whole, Mr. Twohy’s partiality to self-reference would soar past attention, ultimately landing as an inconsequential fault within an otherwise taut suspense show — which this is not. “A Perfect Getaway” is gorgeous looking but ultimately sloppy. It’s one of those films that has the potential to inspire audience laughter for all the wrong reasons (see last year’s “The Happening”). Or, the right reasons, perhaps? Mr. Twohy piles on the off-putting moments so high that it’s unclear whether head-shaking snickers are what he desires or not. Whichever the case, “A Perfect Getaway” is hardly worth the deliberation.

Midway into the film, a nameless passerby warns the main characters — four vacationers hiking the scenic rainforests of Honolulu — of dangerous terrain ahead with “a lot of twists and turns up ahead,” signaling on cue a series of character reveals and flipped perception. None come as a surprise, though. Early into the film, it becomes obvious that identities are undefined, as an on-the-loose pair of Mickey-and-Mallory-esque is reported to be in the same jungle as honeymooning couple Cliff (Steve Zahn), who’s a fledgling screenwriter, and Cydney (Milla Jovovich). The newlyweds immediately finger their eccentric travelmates Nick (Timothy Olymphant) and Gina (Kiele Sanchez) as the murderers, which redirects “A Perfect Getaway” into whodunit territory.

Rather than play events straightforward and rely on his storytelling, Mr. Twohy (best known for Vin Diesel’s “Pitch Black” franchise) discards of nuance. At one point, Mr. Twohy follows up a confrontation between Cliff, Cydney and a pair of sleazy hitchhikers with a discussion about the use of “red herrings” in Hollywood scripts, by the cinéphile term. The intent may have been to appear clever, yet mirror moments such as this come too frequently to qualify as witty. By the time that Gina pleads with a telemarketer for 911 assistance, "A Perfect Getaway" has shown itself to be too uneven to completely register laughs "with;" it's a one-way street, the chuckles surfacing at the film's expense.

“A Perfect Getaway” is admirably played straight by the game cast, the strongest performance coming from Mr. Olymphant. As the macho yet playful Nick, Mr. Olymphant nibbles on scenery every chance he gets, and he walks away with the movie as a result. Mr. Zahn, given a chunky lead role for a change, does his best with a rather grating character — the paranoid, seemingly useless non-Alpha male. Mr. Zahn’s turn benefits from the hammy, unconvincing work of Ms. Jovovich, though; all wide-eyed and “golly gee” in an against-type role, she proves that she’s better at looking stone-faced while kicking ass (as in the “Resident Evil” films).

Elements of a much better film are scattered throughout "A Perfect Getaway." As the tension escalates and knife-wielding begins, the film flirts with genuine thrills; but Mr. Twohy’s pointless use of slow-motion and Tourette-like bursts of heavy metal music ruin the fun. The storytelling mishaps equally spoil. Although the third-act twist is pointed toward way too often, it’s still an intriguing role reversal that – with sharper execution pre-reveal – could’ve been a jaw-dropper. It’s not helped by Mr. Twohy’s neverending explanation, either; shot in black-and-white and given double the amount of time needed, the flashback sequence is officially in the running for cinema’s most-over-explained twist of all time. Consider one ballot already cast.

Ironically, Mr. Twohy should’ve taken advice from one of his own characters. During one of their many discussions about screenwriting, Nick drops a pearl of wisdom on Cliff's ears: “Get all the details right; otherwise, you’re making another craptastic movie.” You said it, brother.

A PERFECT GETAWAY

Opens on Aug. 7 in the United States and on Aug. 14 in Britain.

Written and directed by David Twohy; director of photography, Mark Plummer; edited by Tracy Adams; music by Boris Elkis; production designer, Joseph Nemec III; produced by Ryan Kavanaugh, Mark Canton, Tucker Tooley and Robbie Brenner; released by Rogue Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Timothy Olyphant (Nick), Milla Jovovich (Cydney), Kiele Sanchez (Gina), Steve Zahn (Cliff), Marley Shelton (Cleo) and Chris Hemsworth (Kale).

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