Agatha Christie had it figured out. Ten victims, one killer. Set it up, knock 'em down.
And while there's something to be said for simplicity -- writer-director David Twohy opts for three couples with two killers among them -- A Perfect Getaway can hardly sustain itself until the suspense can kick in. Unable to cut to the chase, Twohy takes his time and decides to get coy, and as it turns out, the only thing deadlier than a killer in a thriller is a screenwriter.
If only because he acts as an enabler, Cliff (Steve Zahn) is a problem, for he is said screenwriter on a Hawaiian honeymoon with Cydney (Milla Jovovich), and that's enough to pique the interests of loquacious war vet Nick (Timothy Olyphant), who proceeds to blather on to Mr. Screenplay Writer about second-act twists and red snappers, while Cliff assures him that he actually means Screenwriter and red herrings. Get it? Because for all we know, Nick and his own significant other (Kiele Sanchez) could be the culprits behind a newlywed slaying over in Honolulu, tagging along on the trail until things get really remote. Or was it that young couple (Chris Hemsworth and Marley Shelton) that Cliff and Cydney refused to give a lift on the way who have managed to catch up and rarely crack a smile?
All this chit-chat stands in for tension, as we wait for the red herrings to be fished out of the plot, and we wait for the inevitable Big Reveal, and we go from expecting anything to anticipating everything. So when Twohy does tip his hand in a clumsy, at times risible flashback sequence, it's a surprise -- but not that much of a surprise -- and it's more importantly a starting pistol for the running to finally begin.
While the character groundwork laid out prior does in fact pay off -- one character's endearing machismo turns into a rooting interest; another character's overly perky personality can be excused as a sloppy invention of identity -- the narrative itself is likewise begging for scrutiny, and while Twohy never out-and-out cheats, he does ask us to buy that some allegedly smart people make at least one very dumb move and that some scenes that wouldn't really need to take place did just for the sake of throwing us off the trail.
Because there's only so much there in terms who's doing what and why, I fear going into great detail about the performances. I will just say that the perfectly modest casting work manages to both play into what we expect of certain familiar actors and actresses and against it for others, and that I would like to see Ms. Sanchez get a bit more work judging from what she brings to the table here.
I wish I could say more, but I can't. A Perfect Getaway is a slight film, slight in its surprises and in its suspense, and yet not totally devoid of either. Twohy displays the same sort of directorial confidence that he brought to the more straightforward genre likes of Pitch Black and Below, that much is true.
But then again, the characters of neither Pitch Black nor Below happened to have a screenwriter in their midst.