Director: James Foley
Cast: Halle Berry, Bruce Willis, Giovani Ribisi, Richard Portnow, Clea Lewis, Gary Dourdan, Florencia Lozano, Nicki Aycox, Daniella Van Graas, Paula Miranda
MPAA Rating: (for sexual content, nudity, some disturbing violent images and language)
Running Time: 1:49
Release Date: 4/13/07
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Review by Mark Dujsik
Sometimes you wish a movie would abandon its false pretenses and just go for the gusto. That's the case with Perfect Stranger, which has all the makings of a trashy thriller but attempts to hide behind a serious-minded charade of psychology, the power struggle between the sexes, and technical pseudo-jargon. If the movie had just acknowledged its more lurid elements—anonymous sex, the battle of the sexes with sex as the primary weapon, and, well, more sex—it could have the makings of, at best, a guilty pleasure or, at least, pure, laughable trash. Instead, Todd Komarnicki's script worries too much about being taken seriously, and director James Foley buys into those reservations. The result is an awkward mishmash of sensationalistic components with the inclination toward a practical realization of those elements that is, really, quite boring. Add to that muddled execution a setup that seems to exist solely for lots of product placement (which the movie has no qualms about exploiting) and a string of twist endings that become less and less believable as they're thrown out, and Perfect Stranger becomes tedious on just about every level.
After some really strange opening credits that have us seem to have us looking at either the cosmos, time and space, or circulatory system only to really be pictures of eyeballs, we meet Rowena (Halle Berry), a journalist going to meet a Republican US Senator (Gordon MacDonald) in Washington, DC. The movie makes the point of showing that he's a Republican, and when Rowena begins to show him pictures of him and his interns, you should see where this is going. The Senator is tells her he will do anything to keep the scandal quiet, but we take another weird trip (this time through a wireless connection) to New York City, where Rowena's assistant and computer guru Miles (Giovanni Ribisi) has recorded the entire conversation. Her newspaper quashes the story after some backdoor dealings. Disillusioned by her paper's unwillingness to print the work of an anonymous writer who entraps her sources, she quits and happens to meet an old childhood friend named Grace (Nicki Aycox), who needs help with an affair she started on the internet with ad mogul Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis). Soon, Grace is dead, poisoned and dumped in the river, and Rowena investigates Hill the only way she knows how.
Pretending to be a temp worker named Katherine (an identity placed in the system by Miles, who plays the role present in any movie involving computers of the guy who can hack into any computer system), she infiltrates Hill's ad agency to uncover the boss' dirty laundry (and allow some advertising time for Reebok, Victoria's Secret and Heineken). There's an irony here that Rowena argues journalistic integrity, comparing her covered up story to the hiding of bodies coming back from Iraq, only to spend the rest of the movie misrepresenting herself as not one but two different people. She gets the gossip from the firm's resident rumormonger Gina (Clea Lewis) and learns that Hill has had problems with extramarital affairs in the past—enough that his wife Mia (Paula Miranda) has threatened to cut him out of her money if she catches him again. Miles is convinced the evidence to nail Hill can be found by talking to him in an online chat room, and that's apparently where Komarnicki thinks all the thrills take place. There's scene after scene of text on a computer screen, with Halle Berry speaking out what's written, and if you think that's exciting, wait till you see the scene where Rowena tries to upload some software onto Hill's private computer.
There's also the scene where she tries to turn off her computer with her foot before Hill notices the picture she sent to him online, and man, is this stuff tiresome. Worse are the scenes that try to get the juices flowing, as Rowena takes home Grace's ex-boyfriend while Miles listens to them having sex. Rowena follows Hill and watches him with one of his female underlings (it should be noted, people only have sex in this movie upright), and there's more chat room scenes. With all the gossip and fun with computer screens and zip disks, chat rooms and file transfers, one has to remind oneself why Rowena is doing any of this in the first place. If that weren't enough, there are flashbacks to her childhood relating sexual abuse done by her father (the movie forgets about them for a long time), which might hold some answers but only if you can stomach the series of absurd revelations in the movie's final act. There are three endings here, each one more ludicrous than the last, and by the time everything is revealed, it's in an unintentionally hilarious scene where one character tells another everything they already both know.
The fact that one of those characters appears bored as the story is related is a great piece of inadvertent commentary on how we're feeling. I guess I can say the ultimate surprise ending of Perfect Stranger is unpredictable, but that's only because the movie repeatedly cheats to accomplish it. Then again, by the time the movie gets to that point, any ending would suffice as long as it just ends.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.