Friday, April 13, 2007

Perfect Stranger

PERFECT STRANGER (James Foley, 2007)

PERFECT STRANGER is a perfectly mediocre thriller until the spectacularly stupid ending arrives. Nothing much happens while director James Foley's film lopes through the paces of a generic procedural destined for endless plays on basic cable. Red herrings are dutifully dispensed, but there's little intrigue in this high gloss murder mystery. Except for the ending, a thing so misconceived that it has to be seen to believed, PERFECT STRANGER is uninteresting yet tolerable because of the comfort its familiar form engenders.

New York Courier investigative reporter Rowena Price (Halle Berry) thrives on exposing the corruption of powerful men. She quits in a huff when her explosive piece about a politician gets torpedoed, but it doesn't take long for another juicy story to fall into her hands.

Rowena's childhood friend Grace (Nicki Aycox) is murdered, and all indications are that advertising executive Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis) is responsible. Grace had been having an affair with him and kept a file of their scandalous chat room conversations and e-mails. With the assistance of her tech genius friend Miles (Giovanni Ribisi), Rowena plots to catch Hill. She infiltrates his company H2A as a temporary employee and tempts him with suggestive online chats in the hope of getting the necessary evidence to convict him.

Rowena doesn't turn to the police because she assumes that once again the rich will buy their way out of trouble. Plus, she'd lose a dynamite story. It's never clear how her undercover work is intended to cinch the case against Hill. She might be able to prove that he is unfaithful to his wife, but that hardly puts him on the hook for murder. The file in her possession is more damning than anything she can coax from the hound dog. Thus the game being played in PERFECT STRANGER seems irrelevant other than as a way of spicing up the proceedings.

The film has the shadings of an erotic thriller, but it's a bloodless affair. Harrison's a slimeball while Rowena is cold and calculating. The majority of their interactions come via internet chats. The actors read most of the text they're seen typing, a surefire way to kill momentum. Their disconnected flirtations generate zero heat, not that it's any warmer when they share the frame.

PERFECT STRANGER has an alarmist view of computers and the internet that might have gained more traction ten years ago than it will now. It's shocked--shocked!--that people online might not be who and what they present themselves as being. Ooh, this newfangled technology can intrude into our lives and permit people to misrepresent their identities and intentions. Scary!

Really, though, there's nothing notable about PERFECT STRANGER until an ending that will prompt quizzical expressions on the faces of audience members. Or, in instant message terms, WTF?!

Grade: D

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