Perfect Stranger (Sony Pictures, R)

stranger2 I have to give the filmmakers their unfortunate props, though, for seriously undercutting my already low expectations.





Often, when we watch crime thrillers like Perfect Stranger, we find ourselves asking questions. Basic questions that deal with the structure of the mystery and how facts are revealed. Well, after asking myself all those questions about this film, I found myself left with two truly fundamental ones: Why are famous people in this movie, and how did this lame crap ever even get made?

Rowena's (Halle Berry) childhood friend has just been found brutally murdered. She uses her skills as an investigative reporter and sets out to prove that her friend's online liaison with powerful (and married) advertising executive Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis) led to her death. She enlists her tech-geek buddy Miles (Giovanni Ribisi) to help her track down hard evidence.

Honestly, I had seen a couple of different trailers and wasn't anticipating much from this film. I have to give the filmmakers their unfortunate props, though, for seriously undercutting my already low expectations.

This leads to one of my above ponderings about the film. How exactly did this become a major theatrical release? Very little about Perfect Stranger gives us any evidence that it's more than a movie-of-the-week in disguise. Let's start with that title. Generic much? And it really has no connection to anything that happens in the movie. The audience may have been better off had this been a film version of the 1980s television show Perfect Strangers. A few pratfalls from Mark Linn-Baker would have helped things out considerably.

The screenplay specializes in implausibility. What makes matters worse is that every unlikely occurrence leads to another dubious plot point, and you don't need to know anything about getting away with murder to see how left-of-field it all is. For example, supposedly smart people should realize that the rich, powerful, and dangerous can't be confronted head-on without dire consequences. And shouldn't be confronted at all, unless absolutely necessary.

We end up with a story that's not so much confusing as it is unbelievable. Perfect Stranger is the kind of movie that you sit through in a constant state of quandary. Just as you begin to ask one question, the filmmakers have lobbed another ball of stupidity at you.

Mystery crime dramas should be all about the thrills. They don't need to be filled with action, but they do need to give viewers that "edge of the seat" feeling. Perfect Stranger won't give you any chills. The movie is so baffling and meandering that it can't elicit any genuine emotion from the audience. In fact, the last 15 minutes should be shocking, but by that point I could not be bothered to care anymore. Instead of "Oh my God!" you'll probably end up saying "Hmm…interesting."

Berry, as our mystery-solving protagonist, overacts (especially early in the film), apparently trying to compensate for the weak script. Her performance here is almost as bad as the one she gave in B.A.P.S., and for someone we know to be capable of Oscar0caliber work, that's just sad. Her performance proves that it takes a solid story, not just star-power, to make a film go.

Willis is utterly unremarkable as Hill. The character is supposed to be rich, powerful, secretive, and a bit scary, but Willis comes off as none of those things. As Hill, he doesn't even appear smart enough to have gotten as powerful as he is. That adds up to Willis as an incredibly dull villain. Ribisi isn't a superstar, but he is a good actor. His work here is solid as usual, but certainly he and everyone else involved could have chosen a better project than this.│Adrienne Jones

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