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 V.16 No.15 | April 12 - 18, 2007 

Film Review

Perfect Stranger

Bored to death

“Dude, this new Shins album rocks.”
“Dude, this new Shins album rocks.”

Perfect Stranger

Directed by James Foley

Cast: Halle Berry, Bruce Willis

Here’s a riddle for you. When is a thriller not a thriller? Simple: When it has no thrills to offer. How does one accomplish such a seemingly contrary feat? Well, the 1995 Irwin Winkler-directed “thriller” The Net was a perfect example. The makers of that tech-obsessed thriller thought they could fold some newfangled, cyberspacey twists in with their standard-issue conspiracy theory script. On screen, that boiled down to star Sandra Bullock sitting and typing on a computer screen scene after scene. It was, in a word, boring. Now, the James Foley-directed “thriller” Perfect Stranger finds a way to make a thriller even more enervated--by looking to The Net for inspiration.

Halle Berry stars as a plucky investigative reporter named Rowena (really?) who becomes disillusioned with her career thanks an exposé she writes about a closeted gay senator. Before it can be published, the story is killed by her bought-and-paid-for publisher. After delivering a clunky speech about freedom of the press, Rowena quits. There’s very little downtime, however, as she is immediately accosted by an old friend named Grace (Nicki Aycox, “Cold Case”) who’s got a juicy tip. Seems Grace has been having an affair with big-time advertising executive Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis). The twist: Hill is married. It’s not a news story by any stretch of the imagination, and to her credit, Ro turns down the offer to help expose Hill as an adulterer. But when Grace shows up dead in New York’s East River a few days later, Ro sits up and takes notice.

“Would you care for a ... Seagram’s Golden Wine Cooler?”
“Would you care for a ... Seagram’s Golden Wine Cooler?”

With the help of her puppy dog-ish research assistant (played by Giovanni Ribisi), Ro does her best Nancy Drew impersonation, going undercover to expose Hill as a sex freak and a murderer. She gets a job as a temp at his ad agency and soon attracts his attention with her short skirts and tight blouses. While waiting for the on-the-job sexual harassment to commence, Ro starts e-mailing Hill. Allegedly, the guy is into kinky online sex. If Ro can get him to make with the nasty emoticons, then use the company’s bladeserver to prove Hill was exchanging e-mails with Grace, then download a Trojan virus onto his office computer using a portable zip drive, then ... um. Sorry, I zoned out during this film’s hundredth closeup of a computer screen and couldn’t tell what the hell was going on anymore--kinda like when the Alibi’s systems manager comes into my office and tries to explain why the spam filter has crapped out for the 10th time this month.

So what we have here is, more or less (mostly less), a throwback to the erotic thrillers of the ’90s. Perfect Stranger is just like Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction—except without the sex. Instead of actually engaging in any sweaty bodily contact, Halle Berry sits and types a few vaguely salacious e-mails. That, my friends, is not what I would call progress. Characters throw around the f-word an awful lot--but if you came to the theater looking for actual f-ing, you’re going to be disappointed. As far as thrills are concerned, there’s the scene in which Berry tries frantically to unplug a computer with her toes. But that’s about as nail-biting as things get here.

There is a rumor floating around that the filmmakers went to the trouble of shooting three different endings, all with a different person revealed as the killer. That doesn’t speak well for it being a smart, intricately scripted crime thriller. A murder mystery in which absolutely any random character could have done it--as opposed to a logical, well-planned story in which all the clues and motivations point to one elusive yet inevitable solution--isn’t a credible whodunit. It’s a game of Clue.

If there actually were three endings shot, then I have to say the filmmakers went with the wrong one. After slogging along, sexless and actionless, for an hour and a half, the film opens up its manila envelope, pulls out Suspect, Room and Weapon cards, and lays out its preposterous solution. I guarantee you won’t see it coming, because it doesn’t make the slightest freakin’ sense.

Berry manages to look fetching throughout, but that represents the whole of the film’s appeal. The woman did win an Oscar for Monster’s Ball, and you might be fooled into thinking she’s a good actress. Unfortunately, she isn’t. With a great director and a tight script beneath her, she can get by. Her director here is James Foley, helmer of such fine thrillers as After Dark My Sweet and Fear. Of course, he also gave us Who’s That Girl? with Madonna, which is much closer to the work he produces with this clunky, unrealistic, ultimately laughable script.

 

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