A big-reveal thriller with surprises that really do surprise — and are worth waiting for through an audaciously long buildup — “A Perfect Getaway” finds writer-director David Twohy in popcorn form with a muscularity not seen since 2000’s “Pitch Black.” Toplining Milla Jovovich and Steve Zahn as one of three Kauai-vacationing couples imperiled by homicidal maniacs, pic offers a basic “Into the Blue”-type lure, marrying suspense to spectacular scenery both natural and gym-toned. What develops, however, is gratifyingly twisty, and doesn’t lose its humor even when the going gets very tough. Late-summer sleeper status is assured, with likely stronger ancillary biz.

Excerpts from a wedding video intercut with the early Hawaii honeymoon days of Cydney (Jovovich) and Cliff (Zahn), accompanied by ominous music, raise the usual expectations that we’ll soon witness deep trouble in paradise. After viewing their destination by helicopter, the two purchase permits allowing them to hike 11 miles to a remote beach.

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Their rental-car drive to the trail’s start point is marred by a brief encounter with hitchhikers Cleo (Chris Hemsworth) and Kale (Marley Shelton). She seems nice; he really doesn’t. Once on foot, our yuppie protags meet a more congenial fellow traveler in Nick (Timothy Olyphant), who leads them to a gorgeous waterfall where his own amour, sassy Southerner Gina (Kiele Sanchez), is already taking the waters au naturel.

The warning signs are many: The more Nick and Gina talk, the weirder they get. The stalking/skinning of a wild goat for supper induces Cliff to observe that his new friends have “officially graduated to the ‘crazy’ category.” This is no idle jest; by then, everyone has become aware that a pair of honeymooners in Honolulu were brutally murdered by another couple who are still at large.

It takes “Getaway” a full hour before it springs its biggest — though far from last — plot twist (which no doubt will be spoiled for many by text-messaging friends and unsubtly hinting reviewers). But that hour is far from time spent waiting for something to happen, as Twohy’s screenplay gifts its principals with some fresh, sparky dialogue. When things finally do go to hell in the proverbial handbasket, the humor becomes more visceral than verbal, though one female character does get a memorably offhand last line.

The script’s sole dicey aspect is the characters’ occasional, self-conscious quipping about the very thriller-movie tropes being upended (excused by the fact that Cliff is a rising screenwriter), but fortunately those aren’t pushed to overload. Twohy’s one directorial misstep is a late bit of split-screen gimmickry that values style over content. But those minor quibbles aside, “A Perfect Getaway” is most satisfying (admittedly, “perfect” would be a stretch) pop entertainment that’s clever enough to require no apologies for being sexy, gory, and far-fetched when thought about afterward.

Clearly enjoying their character idiosyncracies, the thesps are sharp, with slowly rising star Olyphant and comparative unknown Sanchez likely to get career boosts. Production is first-rate down the line; Mark Plummer’s widescreen images were mostly shot on Puerto Rico for tax-credit purposes, with some Jamaica and Kauai pickups dressed in.

A Perfect Getaway

  • Production: A Rogue Pictures release of a Relativity Media production in association with QED Intl. Produced by Ryan Kavanaugh, Mark Canton, Tucker Tooley, Robbie Brenner. Executive producers, Robert Bernacchi, Scott Fischer, Mark Fischer. Co-producers, Kenneth Halsband, Camille Brown, Geoffrey Taylor. Directed, written by David Twohy.
  • Crew: Camera (Technicolor, widescreen), Mark Plummer; editor, Tracy Adams; music, Boris Elkis; music supervisor, Gina Amador; production designer, Joseph Nemec III; art director, Zina Torres; set decorator, Lisa J. Alkofer; costume designer, Laura Goldsmith; sound (Dolby Digital), Steven Grothe; re-recording mixers, Marc Fishman, Tony Lamberti; visual effects supervisors, Jonah Loop, Tim Carras; assistant directors, Myron Hoffert, Joan G. Bostwick; casting, Anne McCarthy, Jay Scully, Freddy Luis. Reviewed at Sony Metreon, San Francisco, August 4, 2009. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 97 MIN.
  • With: Nick - Timothy Olyphant Cydney - Milla Jovovich Gina - Kiele Sanchez Cliff - Steve Zahn Kale - Marley Shelton Cleo - Chris Hemsworth
  • Music By: