Perfect Stranger (2007) / Thriller-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for sexual content, nudity, some disturbing violent images and language
Running Time: 109 min.

Cast: Halle Berry, Bruce Willis, Giovanni Ribisi, Nicki Aycox, Kathleen Chalfont, Daniella Van Graas, Paula Miranda, Patti D'Arbanville, Richard Portnow, Gary Dourdan, Florencia Lozano, Heidi Klum
Director: James Foley
Screenplay: Todd Komarnicki

Review published April 18, 2007

You can forget trying to closely follow a mystery-thriller once you find out that three separate endings are rumored to have been filmed, each with a different character revealed as the culprit.  This is one of those films where everyone, including the third guy on the elevator in the blue suit who has no speaking lines in the film might have committed the deed.  In fact, that guy on the elevator would be a hell of a lot more plausible than the one they ended up choosing. I'm not sure if test audiences were the ones who decided on which ending they preferred, but one thing is clear: I never want to see the endings that were ditched if this was the best of the bunch.

Halle Berry (X-Men: The Last Stand, Catwoman) stars as hotshot NYC newspaper reporter Rowena Price, who writes under a male pseudonym, David Shane, to protect her investigative work. After suffering the disappointment of her latest expose being buried by her paper, as a closeted US Senator pays his way into hushing a male intern set to reveal an affair with him, she effectively leaves and begins an investigation of her own into the culprit behind the death of a childhood friend, Grace, who had been corresponding through steamy e-mails with someone of great wealth and influence (Aycox, Slap Her She's French). Along with her computer-guru assistant (and not-so-secret stalker), Miles (Ribisi, The Dead Girl), she follows a lead that leads her to the corporate offices of megabucks ad exec, and part-time philanderer, Harrison Hill (Willis, Grindhouse).

Working as a temp in the office, she can keep a close eye on Hill while he keeps an eye on her, regularly coming around to see if he can catch a score with the lovely new girl in the office, under the name of Katherine Pogue. Between correspondence online (under another assumed name), she begins to dig the dirt she needs in order to blow the lid off of the unsolved mystery, but the closer she gets, the more dangerous things become.

What starts out as a potentially fruitful, if standard, thriller involving the assuming of different identities and new techniques in investigative journalism (Google searches, virtual tours, text messages, firewalls, online chat) falls completely apart once the wheels are set in motion before finally derailing and going out in a fiery blaze of incredulous story developments and sheer plot gimmick ineptitude.

Halle Berry is a good actress who seems hell-bent on wasting her talent and beauty in throwaway roles that require minimal effort. Frankly, she isn't much of a factor in the film at all, although being in nearly every scene, as the role requires her character to be a complete dimwit in nearly all matters, despite having the reputation for being the most savvy, street-smart reporter working in the world's largest market for news.

While I appreciate that makers of today's thrillers are bringing them up to the times with the use of the internet and messaging devices in order to exchange information, why in the world is it always so difficult to represent any of them accurately in films? Miles is some sort of prodigy because he can hack into nearly anyone's online account provided they instant message or email him, and even ghost their identity at will. The guy is a stud obviously wasting his life moonlighting as an unemployed reporter's bitch.  He can take a small sample of someone's voice, and then he uses that sampling in order to make software that has no voice capabilities (like IMs) simulate that voice.  It is also pitch perfect depending on context -- how does it know? He could make millions with this technology -- maybe then Rowena would give him the time of day he so desperately seeks!

IM chat responses are always instantaneous -- just type in your text and the response is forthcoming just as soon as you press enter. I must be talking to all of the wrong people online, as it sometime takes several friggin' minutes to get a response when I type to someone (you all know who you are)! Hill catches on that he's being had when he spies a text message on Rowena's cell phone from Miles that says her name in the message -- do people EVER put someone's name (real or otherwise) when texting someone on their cell? Talk about convenient plot contrivances.  Due to potential spoilers, I won't even go into the laughability of Miles's home work environment, except to say that, for a guy so interested in internet security, he literally screams out for someone to come look at his "secret" computer system where he keeps his most private pictures and chat.  Of course, in regular movie fashion, it is unlocked, with no files encrypted, and potentially incriminating evidence placed conveniently, and ostentatiously, right on the desktop.

The end of the film defies all sense of logic, but I can't really figure out how to talk about it without major spoilers. Suffice it to say, when we finally learn who has done it and why, it makes the previous 90 minutes of film virtually worthless. Basically, the screenwriters make no effort on telling a story in a manner which pleases -- they think that the sole determinant for a good mystery is that they completely fool the audience by making the culprit the least likely candidate to have committed the murder. Not so. This person's behavior throughout the film makes absolutely no sense when viewed in the context of the revelation.

A flashback, which is lifted right out of Hitchcock's Marnie, is supposed to appease us for never being given enough clues to even remotely have a chance to figure it out for ourselves.  In fact, you can spot how dumb the makers of this film must think audiences are by how many flashbacks they use of things we've already seen within the movie, some mere minutes after they've occurred.  Note to the producers: we, the audience, aren't confused because we've forgotten the pertinent details, we're confused because we remember them.  The explanations make no sense because they are inconsistent with what has come before.

If there's anything I learned from the film, it is this: if you find out a person has committed a murder in order to stop from being blackmailed, don't reveal to this person you know. If you make the mistake of revealing it, don't try to blackmail this person yourself. However, if you absolutely must blackmail this person, do not do so when this person's hands are within reach of a large butcher knife, especially when there are no witnesses around.

Given the track records of the actors in Perfect Stranger, it's not really a surprise to see them making a bad movie. What is difficult to comprehend is that James Foley, director of such entertaining and savvy dramas like Glengarry Glen Ross and After Dark My Sweet, could make a movie not even worthy of watching even if admission were free. Yes, it's that bad.

With all of the wrangling over which end to choose, they didn't choose my personal pick -- none at all. I'd rather leave the question of the killer left open and just go to end credits than be deliberately insulted with such a ludicrous explanation that left me livid enough to start yelling to people how wretched the film is even though they had no intention of seeing it to begin with. Perfect Stranger is perfectly dreadful.   

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo