A Perfect Getaway

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“Young couple butchered in Honolulu!” says the headline, none-too-subtly, on the front page of a Hawaiian newspaper near the beginning of “A Perfect Getaway.” That bit of outlandishness aside, this is a shrewd thriller that’s both smarter and funnier than you’d expect. Even if you guess where it’s going before it gets there, the ride is fun.

Our non-murdered honeymooners are Cliff (Steve Zahn) and Cydney (Milla Jovovich) Anderson, giddy newlyweds exploring the scenic hiking trails and pristine beaches of the island of Kauai. Cliff is an up-and-coming screenwriter, while his bride seems content just to practice saying “Mrs. Cydney Anderson” all the rest of her days. They hear about the murders from a gaggle of panicky young tourists, but appear to take some comfort in knowing it happened in Honolulu, on Oahu, and not here on Kauai.

Cliff and Cydney meet two couples in their travels. The first is a pair of scummy hitchhikers, Cleo (Marley Shelton) and Kale (Chris Hemsworth), who serve as a reminder that Hawaii has white trash, too. Kale has a tattoo on his chest: “Do Not Revive.” Evidently he is overburdened with people trying to save his life. I sympathize.

The other couple are a bit more companionable, though disconcerting in their own way. They are Nick (Timothy Olyphant) and Gina (Kiele Sanchez), unmarried but every bit as giddy as Cliff and Cydney. Nick is full of stories about his days in Iraq with Special Ops and various other adventures, all of which may or may not be true. He also does a spot-on impression of Nicolas Cage, whom Olyphant may or may not be emulating with his, um, energized performance. He and Gina are free-spirited and laid-back, keen on nude sunbathing, killing their own food, and living the uncluttered life of outdoor survivalists. As Gina says of Nick, with obvious pride, “He’s really hard to kill!”

Without giving too much away, I’ll point out that not much of anything happens in the film for a good long while. That’s typical of this type of thriller, where there’s a small cast of characters and no anonymous madman to butcher a new victim every few minutes. You accept that much of the film will be setup, with the pay-off coming later.

The bonus here is that I don’t mind the wait because the characters are interesting enough to keep me involved. Writer/director David Twohy (“Pitch Black”) was smart to cast the eminently likable Zahn and Olyphant as the male leads. Either actor’s presence in a film is usually a signal that good times are about to be had, so getting them both practically guarantees an audience’s devotion. Somehow Twohy wrangled an endearing performance from the usually somber Jovovich, too, and while Kiele Sanchez is an unknown commodity to me, her portrayal of the earnest Southern girl Gina is sweet.

Twohy gives the four plenty to talk about — Cliff’s occupation as a screenwriter means that Twohy can squeeze in a few meta-references — and easily keeps us diverted until the twists start coming. I never saw the film’s trailer, so I don’t know how much it gives away. Too much, probably. With a limited number of possible outcomes for the story, Twohy gives us the most audacious one, then demonstrates that he was setting it up all along.

B (1 hr., 37 min.; R, scattered harsh profanity, some vulgarity, several instances of very strong violence.)

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