This post contains some vague spoilers for A Perfect Getaway.
David Twohy'sA Perfect Getawaywas not destined for commercial glory. Pitched as a generic tropical-set actioner, with no big-name stars and little marketing muscle behind it, its middling box office performance was a foregone conclusion. Last weekend's $5.7 million result seemed pretty much right.
Depending on your point of view, this is either fitting or tragic. Because David Twohy is one of the most fascinating writers and directors working in genre film today. Hollywood has plenty of talented technical craftsmen -- filmmakers who can make an action movie crackle. But it has precious few people who are consistently doing interesting things with action films, thrillers, science-fiction and horror. Twohy is not content to deliver generically competent entertainment. There's always a twist.
The man is best known for the Riddick duology -- Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick. I like each very much in its own right, but they're really intriguing when viewed together. Pitch Black is a rousing piece of sci-fi horror Alien-style. Riddick then took the first film's mythology and radically changed its scale. A small, contained story seamlessly became something huge -- something on the order of epic fantasy. It was a great trick, and Riddick is some of the decade's most underappreciated sci-fi. 2002's virtually unseen Below was perhaps more nifty than awesome -- a surprisingly organic combination of the submarine movie and the ghost story. (Darren Aronofsky had a hand in the screenplay.) And The Arrival was an alien invasion thriller that was twisty, brainy and interesting, a wonderful answer to Independence Day (though it did beat the behemoth blockbuster into theaters by a couple of months).
A Perfect Getaway-- still in theaters, if you hurry -- offers some similar genre-twisting surprises. Half tricky quasi-Hitchockian thriller, half meta-commentary on Hollywood filmmaking, it may set the record for most first-half red herrings ever, but the last act is genuinely surprising, and the movie becomes oddly touching once it makes its hairpin turn a little over an hour in. It's not perfect, and the arguments that it cheats may hold some water. But it's ambitious, smart and weird -- and it eventually reaches a truly frenzied level of B-movie intensity. (Best. Split-screen. Ever.) Even if you leave unsatisfied, and with unanswered questions, you'll have seen a worthwhile genre experiment.
Twohy probably won't become a truly A-list Hollywood director (though he's written screenplays for very successful, if more conventional, fare like The Fugitive and G.I. Jane). Fortunately for us, he seems content to be a gadfly. While the likes of G.I. Joe sit atop the box office, David Twohy consistently makes genre films that are strange, unexpected, and thinking, thinking, thinking. And that's a hugely important thing.