The promotional tagline sums up this slow burning thriller nicely: “6 Strangers. 2 Killers. 1 Paradise… Getting away can be murder.”
Hollywood screenwriter Cliff (Steve Zahn), and his new bride Cydney (Milla Jovovich), are honeymooning in Hawaii, hiking along a lonely backpacker’s trail, when they learn that another pair of newlyweds has been murdered on one of the other islands. The suspects are a man and a woman, so it’s only natural that Cliff and Cydney should treat other male-and-female couples along the way with caution and suspicion.
Could the serial killers be sullen, tattooed hitchhiker Kale (Chris Hemsworth) and his companion Cleo (Marley Shelton)? Or are ex-special ops Nick (Timothy Olyphant), with the metal plate in his head, forever boasting of his experiences in Iraq, and his unnervingly handy with her knife girlfriend Gina (Kiele Sanchez), the more likely pair?
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When the police arrest one pair and find the killers’ trophies in their bags, that seems to settle the matter. Until Cliff and Cydney and the remaining pair reach the beautiful secluded beach that is their destination, and the fuse finally ignites on this tense, paranoid thriller.
It took me a little while to get into A Perfect Getaway, as initially I did not much like Cliff and Cydney and so could not care what happens to them. But the scenery is gorgeous and atmospheric; the stars are easy on the eye; and the plot gradually sucked me in until by the action-packed finale it had gripped me by the jugular. Twohy’s script is clever and constant references by Cliff and Nick to the usual structure of Hollywood action films, though a little too knowing and self-indulgent at times, serve to play with audience expectations.
Attempts to misdirect viewers sometimes stray perilously close to the line marked ‘cheating’, especially when presenting us with scenes and dialogue that, with hindsight, are unlikely to have happened. Close to the line, but crucially not across. Having watched A Perfect Getaway twice, I now see that, unlike Agatha Christie, Twohy largely plays fair, putting hints and clues in plain sight if we can but interpret them correctly. This is one of those films that prove to be a very different experience on second viewing, full of actions and dialogue that convey an entirely different meaning once the twist is known.
The four leads give uniformly strong performances, bringing credibility to what are frankly rather far-fetched characters. Steve Zahn (Sahara, Management), who on the evidence of previous roles can play sweet or psychotic equally well, keeps us guessing as to which one will surface here, as does Timothy Olyphant (Damages, Hitman), who brings to ‘man in full’ Nick great physicality and a suitably wild gleam in his eye. Milla Jovovich (Ultraviolet, Resident Evil, The Fifth Element) shows no trace of her native Ukrainian accent, switching deftly between sex-obsessed airhead and coldly calculating toughie. And I totally bought Kiele Sanchez’s (Insanitarium, Lost) action girl routine.