A Perfect Getaway

Steve Zahn, Chris Hemsworth, and Marley Shelton in <em>A Perfect Getaway</em>

More of an exercise in narrative gamesmanship than an actual thriller, A Perfect Getaway pretty much douses its first half’s methodical build-up of suspense with its second half’s bucket of contrivance. That’s not to say it isn’t a lot of fun — it is, with a sly sense of humor and sharp dialogue that makes clever, reflexive reference to the characters’ presence in a comic whodunit. (“He’s really hard to kill,” declares one, doting lovingly on her boyfriend, who may or may not be half of a couples serial-killing team.)

Writer/director David Twohy dumps three different vacationing duos in close quarters on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, then starts sending ambiguous messages about which pair might be responsible for killing a pair of newlyweds in Honolulu. The picture revolves around the wholesome-looking Milla Jovovich and Steve Zahn, but the supporting players are the real characters — surly Chris Hemsworth and big-eyed Marley Shelton could be auditioning for a role in a Natural Born Killers sequel, and the he-man Timothy Olyphant and tomgirl Kiele Sanchez are adoring and self-aggrandizing in a gently threatening fashion. I don’t want to spoil the fun, but I’ll just note that, as it turns out, the killers are just as worried about being recognized and apprehended as their counterparts are concerned about becoming prey.

Twohy — best-known these days for the science-fiction thriller Pitch Black, although his screen credits as a writer include The Fugitive, Waterworld, and G.I. Jane — keeps this material tricky, freaky, and laugh-out-loud funny for long enough that it qualifies as a real achievement. Even if the film eventually descends into highly familiar thriller territory, it explores human relationships across sex and class barriers with a bare smidgen of seriousness. For this kind of movie, that’s exactly enough.

The Blu-ray Disc from Universal has an highly saturated image that depicts various shades of Hawaiian blues, greens, and yellows with pleasing intensity and apparent accuracy. Skin tones — and there’s quite a bit of skin in the movie — take on a golden glow. This kind of rich, hyperreal approach has become a favorite of contemporary horror-movie directors, and there’s an expert quality to cinematographer Mark Plummer’s work (he devised music-video looks for Madonna’s “Express Yourself” and Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love,” among others, and shot After Dark, My Sweet and Albino Alligator) that makes me wonder why he hasn’t been in higher demand on movie sets.

I chose the “unrated director’s cut” of the film, although a modicum of Google research later indicated that this appellation is marketing BS, since Twohy was happy with the theatrical release. The difference between the two cuts is about 10 and a half minutes of footage, bits and pieces that have been interspersed fairly evenly throughout the film’s running time. At any rate, there’s nothing here that would jeopardize the film’s R rating, and I’d recommend starting instead with the theatrical release, brevity being the soul of the thriller. The box copy promises “the shocking original scripted ending!” but really it’s just a mildly truncated alternate version.

All that said, Universal makes some of the ugliest Blu-rays on the market. This disc has the studio’s default pop-up menu design, a curved thing that slides into view from the left-hand side of the screen with a faux brushed-steel border that was just the thing in UI design 10 years ago. Obviously it’s a money-saving template, but a high-definition movie that lists for 40 smackers shouldn’t have a menu design that recalls the state of the art in DVD-Video circa 1997. Beyond the extended edit and the variant ending, there are no special features here, although one of the menu options promotes something called D-BOX Motion Code while, hilariously, failing to explain what a “D-BOX integrated motion system” is. (Essentially, this feature allows you to load software synchronizing your movie with an expensive vibrating chair. So much better than audio commentary!)

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