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Movie Review: John Anderson on ‘A Perfect Getaway'

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Newlyweds are terrorized during a Hawaiian vacation in this horror movie starring Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich. Video by Universal

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By John Anderson
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, August 7, 2009

For the infernal purposes of the horror/slasher/thriller movie, Nerds on Vacation are what are known, in technical terms, as Sitting Ducks. They are not as popular a choice for extermination as Teenagers Going Away for a Weekend at The Cabin on The Lake, of course. But much like the Good-Natured-but-Not-Great-Looking Best Friend, they might as well have KILL ME on their foreheads. It must be something about blissful abandon, innocence, fresh perspectives and free time that the film industry just wants to snuff out like last night's Chesterfield King.

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Take Cliff and Cydney: They seem sweet. Young. In love. They go to Hawaii on their honeymoon, run into some unpleasantness on Oahu, and decide to go to Kauai. There, they plan to backpack through the jungle, visit remote beaches and nurture their love. Instead, they immediately run into not one, but two couples who might have found one another via the Homicidal Maniac Compatibility link on eHarmony.com. This is no way to start a marriage.

But it's not a bad way to get a thriller off the ground. Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich are Cliff and Cydney, and play them as the kind of naifs who would hear about a double murder of honeymooners back in Honolulu and immediately think 1) the murderers had next gone to Kauai and 2) they will be lurking somewhere on the hiking trail. Fueling their raging paranoia are the first couple they meet, Gina (Kiele Sanchez) and Nick (Timothy Olyphant), the latter of whom has a titanium plate in his head, a slightly crazed look in his eye and a sufficient number of Iraq war stories to curl one's hair. When he's told that Cliff is a screenwriter, the stories get richer and deeper. Is Nick on the level? The real question: Is anybody?

The anxiety generated by what writer-director David Twohy is doing with "A Perfect Getaway" isn't just about killers on the loose -- it's about people choosing between death and bad manners. Back in Honolulu, Cliff and Cydney didn't give a ride to two mutants named Kale and Cleo (Chris Hemsworth and Marley Shelton), and then run into the scary twosome on the Kauai trail. Cliff and Cydney don't just seem scared -- they're embarrassed. They don't want to ditch their new friends either, partly because Nick and Gina are so outgoing, and because Cliff and Cydney wouldn't know how to extricate themselves from the group hike if they wanted to.

It's social awkwardness, with a lethal kick.

Any film reviewer who uses the term "without giving anything away . . ." is essentially giving something away, because he or she is revealing there's something to give away. Suffice to say that on the basis of only one viewing, Twohy's thriller/romance/travelogue seems to have enough red herrings on board to scuttle a cruise ship to Waikiki. Of course, the major difference between movies that make money and movies that make real money is repeat business. "A Perfect Getaway" should make a killing, because audiences will be heading back before the credits are over just to see if the damn thing made any sense.

The scenery, as might be expected, is spectacular (much of the film, however, was shot in Puerto Rico, rather than Kauai). And the sense of impending doom is palpable. As thrillers go, the film is more nerve-racking than most, and far better acted -- the four principals are terrific, particularly Jovovich, who gives a really nuanced performance. As the couples do their psychological dance and the viewer tries to figure out just exactly where in the wide, wide world of steamy tropical paradise this all is going, the spasms of fear multiply exponentially. But while "A Perfect Getaway," like "The Sixth Sense," recaps itself, to indicate to the audience what they may have missed (and when), there seems to be plot holes large enough that one could paddle through them in an outrigger canoe. It's a mystery, of course, but a lot of that mystery lingers after the sun has set on "A Perfect Getaway's" bloodied beaches.

A Perfect Getaway (97 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for violence, vulgarity, sexual content and drug use.


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