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Rowena Price is a muckraking reporter for a New York paper. When her story about a closeted gay Senator who preaches family values is spiked, she quits and soon finds herself investigating the grisly murder of a childhood friend. Her friend had been dumped by ad exec Harrison Hill, so he's Rowena's prime suspect. Rowena gets a job at the ad agency as a temp, and she's soon the object of Hill's attentions. She's helped in her subterfuge by Miles Haley, a friend at the paper who has a secret thing for her. Everyone, it seems, has secrets, including Hill, who must keep his affairs from his wife - her money fuels his lifestyle. Murder will out? Written by
What's the point of guessing if the movie doesn't play fair?
After viewing Perfect Stranger, I went on the film's page at the IMDb, and found out that there were three different endings filmed, each one with a different character being guilty. This does not surprise me at all. This is a movie that jerks us around simply for the sole fact that it wants to jerk us around. It doesn't want us to figure it out, and it doesn't play fair. When I realized that there was no point in following the clues and the movie simply plays to the demands of the filmmaker and which ending worked best with test audiences, it made me hate this shallow and silly excuse for a thriller even more.
The film centers on an investigative journalist named Rowena (Halle Berry) who specializes in going undercover and exposing corporate and political frauds with the help of her creepy best friend and co-worker Miles (Giovanni Ribisi) who seems to have a certain unhealthy obsession with her that is painfully obvious to the audience, yet Rowena seems blissfully ignorant to. Rowena's having a tough time after she quits her job due to one of her stories falling through and a childhood friend of hers named Grace (Nicki Aycox) turns up dead. The two women just happened to have a chance meeting in a subway shortly before Grace's murder, and she told Rowena about how she had been having an on-line affair with a powerful New York ad executive named Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis). Grace had mentioned that their relationship had recently soured, and that Harrison was no longer talking to her. When evidence pops up that Grace may have been pregnant, Harrison becomes all the more suspicious to Rowena, especially since the man is married and has a long history of past affairs. Deciding to investigate on her own, Rowena turns up at Harrison's corporate office as a Temp and tries to get close to him, with Miles trying to dig up more dirt on the guy. Naturally, things are not what they seem, and the movie has more red herrings than a fresh fish market to keep us guessing in sheer futility.
There's nothing exactly wrong with the concept behind Perfect Stranger, and director James Foley certainly gives the movie an attractive look. The problem lies with the screenplay by Todd Komarnicki. He seems to be trying to make an erotic murder thriller along the lines of Basic Instinct, but the movie is not very erotic nor is it very thrilling. The pace is leisurely to the point of being nearly stagnant, and the few sex scenes contained within the film are completely and instantly forgettable. I guess we're supposed to be enthralled by the twisting plot that casts everyone who plays a major role into a shadowy light. The movie stresses time and time again that everyone has dirty secrets, and yes, many secrets are exposed. The problem is almost all of these secrets exist simply to throw us off course. Not one leads to the correct answer. The answer exists simply in whatever of the three endings worked out the best. A thriller like this has to be planned out and lead to one true answer, not whatever answer the filmmakers feel like.
Long before we find out that the movie doesn't even want to play fair, Perfect Stranger never truly captures our attention to start with. The characters are murky at best and, as previously mentioned, exist simply to lead us in multiple directions. They are victims of a plot that knows it's clever. They have no personality and no real motivation other than to act as red herrings. A good example is the character of Harrison Hill, who is slimy simply because he is supposed to be slimy for the sake of the story. He cheats on his wife, he threatens his business enemies, and when he finds out that one of his employees has been leaking info to an outside source, he physically abuses him right in front of all the other employees. None of these actions truly matter. They have no motivation and they do not drive his character to any sort of goal. We can't become attached to these people, because they're not even human to start with.
Since winning the Oscar for Monster's Ball, Halle Berry seems to be on a strange single-minded quest to kill her career. Chalk up another loss for Berry. She's passable at best, but just about any other actress could have filled her shoes, and she brings nothing to the character. Same goes for Bruce Willis, who has absolutely no charisma, and we cannot understand why he is such a ladies man except for the fact that the movie tells us he is. The only performance that does stand out is Giovanni Ribisi as Miles, and it's for all the wrong reasons. He is immediately suspicious to us, because Ribisi plays up the weirdness of his character almost from the instant he walks onto the screen. This makes the fact that Berry's character does not even seem the least bit unnerved by him make her come across as a total idiot.
I will not reveal the ending of Perfect Stranger, but I will say this. When the ending comes, did you personally see anything during the course of the movie that could have led us to the conclusion it wants to lead us to? We don't get the full story beforehand. All the clues, all the evidence, all the paths it had led us down had nothing to do with anything. The movie is a great big exploding cigar that laughs at us when everything blows up in our face. There are no right and wrong answers. Just one very uninteresting movie that doesn't even have the nerve to play fair.
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