Director David Twohy’s casting of Steve Zahn as his lead in A Perfect Getaway turns out to be a masterstroke. Zahn, a decent supporting actor in both comedies and dramas, gets perhaps his biggest chance to show off with this surprising summer thriller that winds up being far better than expected.
The setup is routine at best. Cliff and Cydney, a newlywed couple (Zahn and Milla Jovovich) are honeymooning in Hawaii when news breaks that another newlywed couple has been murdered in Honolulu. The two head out for a hike on a neighboring island, aware of the violent crimes, but comforted that they occurred an island away. Still, the islands aren’t that far apart, so this particular honeymoon already has its share of tension.
They meet two mysterious couples on their journey. The first couple, Kale and Cleo (Chris Hemsworth and Marley Shelton), is hitchhiking on the side of the road. Cliff tries to give them a ride, but things turn unpleasant, and they are left behind. Kale and Cleo aren’t the most pleasant people in the world, and they will be seen again.
The second couple is Nick and Gina (Timothy Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez), and they are scary in a different way. Nick is a former special ops soldier with a metal plate in his head, and Gina is awfully handy with a knife when it comes time to butcher a goat. Cliff and Cydney wind up bonding with them and sharing much of the hike together, with Nick’s behavior friendly one moment and foreboding the next.
Cliff is a screenwriter, so some of Nick’s strange behavior can be attributed to him exaggerating his uniqueness in order to become the subject of Cliff’s next script. Gina seems nice enough, but her infatuation with Nick’s strange brand of machismo gives the impression she would do anything for love.
On top of the usual suspects, Twohy, who also penned the script, throws in a number of other possibilities, and does a good job of throwing savvy moviegoers off the trail. Even if you figure things out before the final revelations, all of the performers make the proceedings fun and often super creepy.
Zahn had a great acting opportunity three years ago in Rescue Dawn, where he played an emaciated POW sidekick to Christian Bale. Since then, his movies have been hit-and-miss. (His participation in the awful Strange Wilderness was especially unfortunate.) With Getaway, Zahn gets to show off his full range, and the guy has some major talent.
Olyphant, who I thought made for a great villain in Live Free or Die Hard, brings the right levels of menace and charm to Nick. He does a nice job keeping the viewer off balance and unsure. Jovovich has always been a better actress than her roles. A moment when she shares a harrowing memory about a dog could be the best thing she has put to screen yet.
Lost fans know Sanchez from the show. She’s done a lot of TV work, but this counts as her breakout feature role. She makes Gina one of the film’s most frightening characters, a bright and beautiful woman who might be capable of unspeakable terrors.
Guess all you want while watching the movie, or just allow yourself to let go and have some fun. The payoff is a good one, and the experience getting there is as deceptive and confusing as it needs to be. The movie stunk up the box office last weekend, but I think it has cult film written all over it. The people at the screening I attended were laughing with delight on their way out the doors.