'(500) Days' — a story about love

"This movie is not a love story." Or so declares the voiceover. Well, that's not entirely true. "(500) Days of Summer" is a love story. Of sorts. Or, more accurately, it's an exploration of the emotion called love.

Love: that strange, heart-palpitating, all-consuming, endorphin/pheromone-producing response to another human being. Suddenly the world is viewed through a rose-colored prism. The air is sweeter. People are kinder. Without doubt, falling in love can be a rush (for some it's addictive, akin to the feelings extreme-sports enthusiasts experience when, say, rock climbing or skydiving) and it's about as reliable as a three-legged stool for making lifelong decisions. And yet, there it is.

Of course, beginning with those first scratchy frames of celluloid that passed through a hand-cranked camera, Hollywood has mined the endless permutations of love.

One such permutation is "(500) Days of Summer": a breezy, light-hearted romantic comedy that examines the coming together of Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). Summer insists she doesn't believe in love, and Tom, reminding her that it's not the equivalent of believing in Santa Claus, is ready to open his heart and his life to not only the emotion but to Summer. He feels like he's been looking for Ms. Right all of his life and the game clock is ticking.

The first of their 500 days of romance begin at the office — they work at a greeting card company in downtown Los Angeles — followed by serious hanging out, first his place and then hers.

The film's structure, however, is decidedly non-linear, as if the writers shuffled the script like a deck of cards. Hence, day 47, say, is the beginning, followed by day 11, which is followed by day 2. The audience quickly knows that this relationship will not end well (for Tom there's real heartbreak in the cards; for Summer, who is more detached, not so much).

Knowing the outcome of Tom and Summer's affair never detracts from the story; it's not the what, it's the why that carries the narrative along.

At the same time, their breakup feels counterintuitive, for all signs point to this modern, hip couple, who seem to have so many things in common, taking their relationship to the next level (a handy term when discussing love's progression).

Remember, this is not a love story with an airport climax where Tom stops Summer from boarding that plane to England, and she turns and hesitates, just long enough for that essential epiphany which causes her to tearfully run to him and they stand clinging to one another as the plane rolls away from the gate and they turn and walk through crowds of people, arm in arm (we assume to the ticket counter to arrange to get Summer bags back).

Surprisingly, for a romantic comedy, "(500 Days) of Summer" is free of intense confrontational moments, or heightened drama, though Tom does finds himself grieving, mostly alone, for Summer to the point of distraction.

Instead, the film skips along airly with nice performances by Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt. In fact, Deschanel is an unusual and even compelling actress who has paid her dues in minor supporting parts (she was brilliant in "Failure to Launch"). She has an ability to use her deeply blue eyes to look either distracted and unfocused or penetratingly focused to the point of seeming cold. Her voice is also atypical, a bit nasal, free of intonation, while remaining interesting.

As mentioned, "(500) Days of Summer" is not a love story, at least not in the spirit of, say, "Ghost" or "Titanic" or "Dr. Zhivago" or "Casablanca." So, call it a story about love that is ultimately unrequited and keep in mind that love is love and it's not over until it's over or the fat lady with the spear and helmet falls in love with the general and finally leaves the stage.

A Perfect Getaway

There's a lot to be said for a solid, lean, let's-keep-it-real B-movie. Little character development, utilitarian dialogue, a narrative arc akin to the trajectory of a bullet shot from the barrel of a .45 heading straight for the target.

For all of the talk about big tent, center pole, blockbuster films, backed by major studio bucks and a stable of big name actors, sometimes a small, second-string film will sneak into theaters and give everyone a nice shot of adrenalin. Oh, yeah. And that is exactly what "A Perfect Getaway" does. It's unrelenting and builds nicely, the ominous tension growing ever so slowly. In other words, it's entertaining.

Sure it's a cliché, but the good kind. All stalker, beautiful young people in harm's way, watch your step, and my cell phone gets no bars out here.

A newly married couple, Cliff (Steve Zahn) and Cydney (Mila Jovovich), after touching down briefly in Oahu, head to Kauai where they are to begin their honeymoon by taking a rigorous and breathtaking hike that ends at a slice of heaven beach, reachable only by kayak or on foot.

Cliff is a nerd, geeky glasses, a newbie screenwriter with one film in pre-production. Cydney's dreamy aspirations are to have five kids, a house, and Cliff.

And so the story begins. The island is devastatingly beautiful, they're in a nifty Jeep rental, the sky is blue, and they're in love. They do hit one speed bump when they stop to pick up two hitchhiking locals, Cleo (Marley Shelton) and Kale (Chris Hensworth). Seeing that they're a bit off center, call it hard-edged hip, Rastafarian dreadlocks, tattoos, they're obviously serious island drifters, and so Cliff changes his mind drives off, leaving the couple to wait for another ride.

Arriving at the trailhead, getting their gear organized, they hear of a horrible double murder back in Honolulu from a group of hikers. A man and wife were killed by a couple that authorities believe has left Oahu for Kauai, their whereabouts now unknown, descriptions vague at best.

Shortly after beginning what will be a long, two-day hike, the newlyweds meet up with Nick (Timothy Olyphant) and Gina (Kiele Sanchaz). Nick is a recently returned special ops soldier from Iraq, and Gina is a Southern belle with unusual talents. And just to make things interesting, Cliff, growing increasingly paranoid, catches sight of Cleo and Kale, not far behind on the trail.

So, the story is built, one scene at a time and the brooding tension grows incrementally. The audience, of course, knows from the get-go that something very bad is going to happen. So it's not if it will happen but when and where and by who.

Writer-director David Twohy has made a taut film with few pretensions. Of course, it's not original: vulnerable people in the wilderness, in jeopardy, is a nifty template, and if done well always seems fresh, no matter how familiar.

The film also has an unexpected twist, set up somewhat clumsily, but it still works nicely, creating a run-for-your-life act three. What would summer be, these dog days of August, without a top drawer B-movie? And here it is.

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