Letter From The Editor - Issue 42 - November 2014

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
August 2009

The fun side of manipulation

Twohy [de]-constructs a compelling exercise in style in 'Perfect Getaway'

A Perfect Getaway
Rogue Pictures
Director: David Twohy
Screenplay: David Twohy
Starring: Steve Zahn, Milla Jovovich, Timothy Olyphant, Kiele Sanchez, Marley Shelton and Chris Hemsworth
Rated R / 1 hour, 37 minutes
(out of four)

These days, a lot of movies try to do what A Perfect Getaway does - the tongue-in-cheek self-awareness, the self-diagnosis, the deliberate allusions to form, structure and storytelling. Everyone's a deconstructionist.

Oftentimes, the filmmakers who go for that style get stuck in a sort of collegiate mindset, so excited about the prospect of what they're doing - "Look ma, I'm deconstructing!" - that all they manage to accomplish is drawing attention to the fact that they're doing it. Unless it's purely experimental or wildly unique, it likely falls flat; nothing is there to support or justify the conceit in the first place.

David Twohy's A Perfect Getaway is essentially an exercise in structural manipulation and screenplay creation, and what works so wonderfully about it is not only the fun it has with its technique, but the joy it takes in its characters and dialogue. How unlikely is it that a movie about vacationing couples being terrorized by a serial killer is driven by great performances and a wry sense of humor? Yet somehow, this movie pulls it off.

Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich play newlyweds Cliff and Cydney who are taking an adventurous vacation in Hawaii, only to be warned when they get there that a pair of killers is on the loose - and seems to be targeting couples.

Along the way meet a pair of couples that, given what we know, seem naturally conspicuous. The first is a grungy, tattooed pair, Cleo and Kale, played by Marley Shelton and Chris Hemsworth; the second a pair of sardonic free spirits, Nick (Timothy Olyphant) and Gina (Kiele Sanchez). There is a lot of humor not only in the way the film's inevitable twists reveal themselves but also in the interactions between the characters. Cliff and Cydney wind up partnering up with Nick and Gina for most of a lengthy hike up a mountain, setting up some tremendous sequences in which the two couples try to feel each other out - the possibility that either one of them, or Cleo and Kale, or some unforeseen combination, or another entity altogether - could be the guilty party.

Adding to the film's self-awareness is the fact that Cliff is a screenwriter - a point of constant conversation for Nick, who once took a screenwriting class and fancies himself perfect material for a movie character. He can certainly spin a fantastic story - and each tale he tells gets a bit more outlandish. He claims to have been a special forces operative; he claims to have survived a plane crash; he has no hesitation about going into the woods and hunting down a goat for dinner. And he always has that smirk on his face, as if he's just a step or two ahead.

What brings every scene between these four characters to life most of all is the superb performance by Olyphant, who magnificently straddles the line between innocent and dangerous, between a little bit eccentric and a little bit insane. You may not know quite what to make of him, but whatever he is or turns out to be, he's compulsively likable.

It's high time Olyphant started to become a bigger star, but given how low under the radar A Perfect Getaway has gone, even a standout performance like this one isn't likely to make that happen. In every role I've seen him in, he's elevated the material - be it as the sleazy producer in The Girl Next Door, the cyber-terrorist in Live Free or Die Hard, the drug dealer in Go or the sheriff in Deadwood. He has a Michael Biehn-like quality but with a more pronounced comedic sensibility. Sooner or later, I declare, he'll hit the big-time.

As great as he is here, the rest of the actors more than pull their weight - and since so much of the film's effectiveness lies in the way the characters behave around one another, that's paramount.

Whether or not you figure out which twists and turns are looming is pretty much beside the point - in fact, I had things pegged pretty early on. But A Perfect Getaway remains a complete entertainment nonetheless. Twohy's characters are so engaging, and his structure so airtight, that he can simply let his sense of playfulness go wild.

It's a matter of tone, really - something an alarming number of filmmakers either don't understand or choose to ignore. There has been a litany of guilty films recently - the silly movie that doesn't know how to be silly, the Dark Movie that takes itself far too seriously, the satire absent any sense of grounding or restraint, the character-driven comedy without any wit. Now, as an unofficial response, comes a film that knows exactly how to do what it does and balances its elements just right. This Getaway may not be perfect, but it could certainly teach a lot of other movies a thing or two.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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