Ed reviews: "A Perfect Getaway" 

A Perfect Getaway did poorly at the box office on its opening weekend. As a rule, I don't reference box office numbers here -- you know, because I'm so lofty and focused on the art of film and not the money and all that -- but the poor financial showing bugged me because this is exactly the kind of tense, funny, twisty B-movie thriller that summer audiences gobble right up. But they didn't and I don't know why. A Perfect Getaway isn't arty or oblique -- it isn't designed as "an adult alternative to typical summer fare."

It's a nightmare-in-paradise flick with an appealing cast that makes the most of their juicy roles. It's told in broad strokes. It builds suspense nicely while lobbing in plenty of quips. There's even a character who makes Scream-style self-referential remarks about writing a screenplay for a thriller. It's flashy. It's gimmicky. It shows a little skin. And it features a cat and mouse storyline that turns lethal.

Good grief, what more do escapist summer audiences want?

The set-up: Newlywed couple Cydney (Milla Jovovich) and Cliff (Steve Zahn) are journeying through Hawaii (Puerto Rico) and decide to take an 11-mile hike to a remote beach. After a nasty encounter with a hitchhiking couple (Chris Hensworth and Marley Shelton), they hit the trail, rattled but ready for adventure. They soon meet Nick (Timothy Olyphant), an alpha male with a smirky grin and lots of action-packed stories that sound larger-than-life, and his honey-bunny Gina (Kiele Sanchez), a sexy, self-assured girl from the South. Cydney and Cliff are intimidated by their new acquaintances -- they both smile a lot, but they're kind of scary. Nick keeps talking about his brushes with death while Gina cheerfully states, "He's impossible to kill." Oh, and both couples are informed that a newlywed couple was recently killed and that the murderer(s) just might be on their island.

We also learn that Cliff is a screenwriter who has a script that's going to be made into a movie and, wouldn't you know it, Nick is interested in "screenplay writing," asking questions about mandatory elements in a thriller, such as "red snappers." "It's red herrings," Cliff curtly states. Sure, having film-savvy characters making self-referential remarks that likely apply to the very movie you're watching is a tired device, but writer-director David Twohy uses it to dare the viewer to figure out the mystery. There aren't that many characters -- surely you can sort it all out and find the truth.

I didn't, and I had fun along the way. The growing tension became tedious at times and the writing is broad, but the B-movie was snappy enough to keep me hooked. After the big reveal, there are a series of quick explanatory flashbacks. Too much information? I don't think so -- I believe Twohy uses the flashbacks to distract you from the preposterousness of the goings-on.

We're in the dog days of summer and you need to use your escapist movie time wisely. A Perfect Getaway is contrived and over-the-top, and those are just two reasons why you should see it.

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A NOTE ON THE STAR RATINGS: Since NUVO switched to the five-star rating system years ago, I reserved the elusive fifth star rating for films I regarded as "instant classics." Readers have repeatedly pointed out that it's been years since I gave a new film five stars and what's the fun of having a virtually impossible-to-achieve top rating? Accordingly, I am now altering the way I give out stars. From this point forward, I'll award stars just like grades in school: One star equals an F, two stars a D, three stars a C, four stars a B and five stars an A. If I see a film I consider an instant classic, I'll just tell you so. Got it? Great.

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