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PERFECT STRANGER

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Halle Berry, Bruce Willis, Giovanni Ribisi, Gary Dourdan
Director: James Foley
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Sony
Features: See Review
Length: 109 Minutes
Release Date: August 21, 2007

“Do you even know what the word loyalty means?”

“I bet your wife is wondering the same thing.”

Film ½*

Being a devoted fan of the thriller genre, nothing irritates me more than a dumb thriller that thinks it’s a smart one, which is the absolute best way to describe Perfect Stranger. You know those cheap made for cable thrillers that pop up every so often on the Lifetime channel? Well this movie is perhaps even worse. Considering all the talent involved both behind and in front of the camera, the movie should’ve just been titled In Desperate Need of a Paycheck.

I can’t understand why Halle Berry is becoming the female epitome of Cuba Gooding, Jr. The gorgeous beauty of a woman the Best Actress oscar five years ago and ever since then her career choices have been downright ludicrous, with the exception of the X-Men sequels. It seems that with every new movie she appears in, the more I am convinced that she is trying her best to persuade the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to consider taking back her Oscar.

Another thing that seem to have crossed my mind as I watched this god-awful excuse for a movie, the fact that Ms. Berry had already made another lame thriller nearly a decade ago called The Rich Man’s Wife. That was another dumb thriller pretending to be a smart one. Did Ms. Berry not learn anything from that movie, or was she that desperate for some money? 

But I will give her this, she certainly looks strikingly hot in Perfect Stranger, which now that I think about it was the one thing that lured me to want to watch the movie in the first place. In fact, everything that was presented in the trailer for the movie promised a much more exciting, and a steamy erotic thriller with Berry in superb great looking form. Too bad the movie turned out to be a crushing bore of a thriller with the sexiness of a peanut.

Instead what we get is poorly conceived “cyber-thriller”, which is a sub-genre I thought had died a decade ago. And to make matters worse, the heroine of the story is not the least bit likeable, which indeed is never a good sign. In fact, we care about absolutely no one in this train wreck of a movie. But to cap it all off, the movie ends with a surprise ending that, in a way, does surprise but it takes the movie to a whole new low of awfulness. More on that later.

Berry plays Rowena Price, an undercover journalist who has a knack for exposing dirty people. In the opening scene, she attempts to expose a politician with photos of him and his gay lover. Not a good sign that the movie opens with such a lame piece of detective work such as this. And yet Rowena acts as if she just broke the Watergate scandal.

But for some reason, her boss is unhappy with her (which doesn’t make much sense seeing as though she just nailed her last assignment). So she quits out of the blue, that is, until an old “so-called” friend name Grace (Nicki Aycox) shows up and delivers information about the unsavory dealings of a successful advertising mogul named Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), whom she was having an affair with. But then Grace turns up brutally murdered, and so Rowena decides to look into it.

So what ensues is the most unintelligent form of undercover work to possibly be depicted on film. Rowena gets a new job as a temp at Harrison’s advertising firm, all too conveniently I must say, while at the same time logging online and engaging in some steamy chat room talk to ADEX, which according to Grace was Harrison’s online name. Since he has a reputation as a womanizer, everything looks like it could add up. It’s at this point in the movie where you realize that Scooby Doo and his team could do a better job at solving this mystery.

The most aggravating portion of the movie is Rowena’s relationship with her hacker friend, Miles, played with excruciating overacting by Giovanni Ribisi. In fact, the scenes between Berry and Ribisi come across as more of a contest between the two to see who can overact the most. The twist involving Miles is that he’s secretly obsessed with Rowena, and she somewhat knows it. Why would she work alongside such a creep?

Perfect Stranger is phenomenally cheap in both its attempts to be suspenseful and sexy. I mentioned that this is mostly a cyber-thriller, meaning we’re treated to countless scenes of suspense involving tapping on computer keyboards and overuse of laptops and cell phones with ultimately lame results. Bottom line; if you want that kind of stuff to work in any movie, best to leave it to Ethan Hunt and the IMF team.

And boy does the viewer get robbed in the erotic department. Here you have the smoldering Halle Berry in an R rated adult thriller and the best we are given is her in a completely un-sexy 30 second, fully clothed sex scene? If this indicates anything, it’s that the filmmakers had no interest whatsoever in this material in terms of spicing it up, which is necessary to do with these kinds of thrillers. And don’t even get me started on the steamy-free chat room scenes between Rowena and, supposedly, Harrison. It’s too lame for words, and yet the movie plays them off as it was envelope-pushing eroticism.

And as if the movie weren’t already amazingly awful, it has the audacity to conclude with perhaps the most ridiculous surprise ending in movie history. Does it surprise? Well…yes, it actually does. It also raises thousands of questions as a result, and if you really think about it, negates the purpose of everything that has gone on in the movie beforehand. Now I’ve been able to accept those who couldn’t buy into the twist ending of The Usual Suspects, so I now suggest to those people that they watch this movie and see which ending is the most insulting. Then again, there’s simply no comparing a brilliant piece of cinema like The Usual Suspects with this sorry movie

As long as I’ve gone on about Halle Berry’s lackluster performance, let’s focus on Bruce Willis shall we? And I thought The Whole Ten Yards would always be the lowest point in his career. Truth be told, Mr. Willis should win the award for Best Phoned In Performance of the Year. He’s far too talented for such garbage. And it’s not like he needed the money. So why in the world would he feel the need to attach himself to such a film that doesn’t even deserve his presence? Throughout the movie, it’s all too easy to see that Willis wishes he were elsewhere.

But I haven’t even touched on the one scene where Willis does apply some effort. Trouble is, is the most laughably bad scene in the movie. When Willis’ character realizes that one of his employees has been spying for another ad agency, he charges into the guy’s office and beats him with an inch of his life in front of the entire advertising staff. He then turns to a frightened assistant and simply tells him, “Congratulations, you just got a promotion.”

For me, the saddest element of Perfect Stranger was the fact that it was directed by such a respectable filmmaker, James Foley. Now I’d be lying if I said Foley had a pitch-perfect track record (he apparently helmed the 1987 Madonna turkey Who’s That Girl?), but he’s made a good number of fantastic films including At Close Range, Glengarry Glen Ross, Fear and the criminally underrated caper flick, Confidence. I’ll never understand why he could go from directing intelligent and entertaining thrillers to making such a monumentally dumb one.

Perfect Stranger is indeed the worst movie of the year thus far and I can’t imagine anything else surpassing its awfulness. When such a great cast and crew involved with the kind of material they have no business making, you know you’ve got an incredible stinker on your hands. Let’s pray that this sort of thriller doesn’t get made again anytime soon; that of the dumb thriller pretending to be a smart one.

Video ****

Well if I can say anything positive about the movie, it’s that it certainly doesn’t look bad at all in this top flight looking release from Sony. In fact, the movie isn’t without a certain level of style, which is about the only thing upon which any effort was put into. At any rate, the anamorphic picture is thoroughly crisp and clear, with both light and darkly lit scenes appearing in terrific form.

Audio ***

A good enough 5.1 mix at hand here. Not a whole lot going on in the movie except that of dialogue and occasional, and alleged, suspenseful music build up. Dialogue delivery is indeed well handled and delivered, and all around sound quality is thoroughly clear and crisp.

Features *

The lack of extras should therefore indicate anyone involved with this movie wanting nothing more than to distance themselves from it. The only feature here is a lackluster featurette titled “Virtual Lives: The Making of Perfect Stranger”, as well as Bonus Previews for additional Sony titles.

Summary:

Perfect Stranger is a cinematic mistake that should have never happened to begin with. But it has, and we must deal with its existence. All that I can hope for is that all the talent involved with it will erase it from their memories and go on to do films worthy of their talent, because this is the sort of movie no one deserves to have on their resume.

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