Perfect Stranger (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

What would happen if a late-night, D-grade direct-to-cable thriller excised all of the raunchily enjoyable elements and managed to attract an A-list cast? The result might be shockingly like Perfect Stranger, a movie so inane that it fails to rise to the level of "good trash." Like Hannibal Rising, this is one of those dumb thrillers where's it's tough to decide which element is worse: the direction, the editing, the acting, or the writing. There are times when a movie like Perfect Stranger can achieve the status of a "guilty pleasure" - assuming there's plenty of sex and nudity to go along with the purple prose and cheap twists. In this case, however, the lurid elements have been neutered, resulting in a production that's not much fun.

Both lead actors are clearly on hand to earn a paycheck. Bruce Willis is marking time waiting for his next opportunity to die hard. He gets to glare a lot and throw a guy around, but that's pretty much the sum total of his performance. Halle Berry mails it in. She looks great but plays such a bitch that it's easy to stop caring about her ten minutes into the film. (This is not, I'm sure, what director James Foley was aiming for.) Those hoping for a Swordfish moment will be disappointed. Berry keeps everything under wraps or below the camera line. Too bad, because that might have provided a reason for at least a few people to see Perfect Stranger.

Rowena (Berry) is an investigative reporter who is searching for the killer of her childhood friend, Grace (Nicki Aycox). At the time of her demise, Grace was having an affair with married advertising magnate Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis). A computer account is full of incriminating sexy chat transcripts between Grace and "ADEX." But is ADEX Harrison? This is something Rowena must determine with the help of her sidekick, Miles (Giovanni Ribisi). To do so, she attacks on two fronts - logging on and sending suggestive messages to ADEX and joining Harrison's company as a gofer. Meanwhile, she's having hot sex with her boyfriend, Cameron (Gary Dourdan), while Miles looks on jealously.

The ending of Perfect Stranger is a surprise because it's arbitrary. This is often the case with D-grade thrillers but one expects more from a major multiplex release starring Bruce Willis and Halle Berry. Based on the clues provided in the story, there's no way to predict where it's going to end up. In fact, the movie demands about five minutes worth of exposition to tie up all the loose ends and attempt to convince us that the identity of the killer makes sense.

Without a doubt, Perfect Stranger is trying to appeal to the same demographic that salivated through the trashy amusement that was Basic Instinct. But without Berry spreading her legs, it lacks a certain panache. For the most part, Foley forgets that thrillers are primarily about atmosphere and tension. There's little of either to be found here. The movie plays a little with the world of on-line sex chats and how it's easy to fake an identity, but this ends up being a red herring. In the end, the chats and their content mean nothing.

It's easy to appreciate an exploitative movie when it provides the requisite exploitation. However, when it strips away all of the stuff that gets it relegated to Cinemax late nights, it becomes dull and uninspired. The plot's attempts to twist our expectations and come up with something we don't expect smack of desperation. Those who don't pay close enough attention to care whether the story makes sense may be satisfied because there's a surprise. Anyone concerned about logic, coherence, and any kind of quality will watch with a jaw slackened by disbelief. Perfect Stranger is the kind of movie that makes you want to rush home and watch something by Hitchcock to be reminded that the term "thriller" does not have to be synonymous with "addlepated."

Perfect Stranger (United States, 2007)

Director: James Foley
Cast: Bruce Willis, Halle Berry, Giovanni Ribisi, Gary Dourdan, Nicki Aycox
Screenplay: Todd Komarnick
Cinematography: Anastas M. Michos
Music: Antonio Pinto
U.S. Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Run Time: 1:32
U.S. Release Date: 2007-04-13
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Violence, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1