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 past comedies and dramas, gets perhaps his biggest chance to show off his chops in this surprising summer thriller that's far better than expected.
The setup is routine: Cliff and Cydney, a newlywed couple (Zahn and Milla Jovovich), are honeymooning in Hawaii, and news breaks that another newlywed couple has been murdered in Honolulu. The two head out on a hike on a neighboring island, aware of the crime but soothed by the fact that it 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 ugly—Kale and Cleo aren't the most pleasant people in the world—and they are left behind.
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.
Zahn's Cliff is a screenwriter, and some of Nick's strange behavior can be attributed to him trying to exaggerate his uniqueness in an effort to become the subject of Cliff's next script. Gina seems nice enough, but her infatuation with Cliff's warped 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, the performers make the proceedings fun and often super-creepy.
Zahn's best previous acting opportunity may have come three years ago in Rescue Dawn, where he played an emaciated prisoner-of-war sidekick to Christian Bale. Since then, his movies have been hit and miss. (His participation in the awful Strange Wilderness was especially unfortunate.) In Getaway, Zahn gets to show off his full range—and the guy has some major talent.
Olyphant, who made a great villain in Live Free or Die Hard, brings the right levels of menace and charm to Nick. He does a nice job of keeping the viewer off balance and unsure. Jovovich has always been a better actress than her roles have allowed for; a moment when she shares a harrowing memory about a dog could be the best thing she has yet put onscreen.
Lost fans know Sanchez; 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; in any case, the payoff is a good one, and the plot 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.