Perfect Stranger

The director of this misbegotten chunk of lifeless cinematic afterbirth is James Foley, previously responsible for Glengary Glen Ross, a brilliant adaptation of David Mamet’s play. That earlier work was top drawer and it still had half as many virtues as this movie has vices. Perfect Stranger smacks you across the face with plot holes so huge that it would be an insult to your intelligence if only you could be bothered to care.

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Halle Berry plays Ro Price, a New York-based investigative reporter whose methods seem to resemble blackmail more than they do any form of journalism. She’s about to score a big exposé on a conservative senator who happens to be secretly a gay party boy, but her primary source is bought off by the Senator’s people. After quitting her job in a melodramatic huff and stewing over this setback, she encounters Grace (Nicki Aycox), a party girl from the old neighborhood. Grace is stalking, er, pursuing a married lover, advertising big-shot Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis) and wants Ro’s help to bring him down. A week later, Grace turns up dead in the river.

While the police look at Grace’s ex-boyfriend as a suspect, Ro is convinced that Hill killed Grace to silence her and preserve the marriage that is the source of most of his wealth. With the help of a computer whiz from her old newspaper (Giovanni Ribisi), she infiltrates Hill’s agency posing as a temp. She discovers that Hill is the kind of guy who’s willing to pull the Reebok account out from under his former mentor and current rival. He’s also the type to rough up an employee he’s caught spying for that same rival. And, yes, he’s also the type to hit on the new temp if she looks a lot like Halle Berry.

Show me a beautiful woman, I’ll show you a man who’s tired of fucking her.

Hill’s wife (Paula Miranda) knows her hubby has a roving eye and keeps him on a tight leash, courtesy of an imposing (probably lesbian) right-hand-woman whose job description is really never clearly defined. Ribisi’s character is one of those all-purpose movie computer geeks who can break into any network and make it do anything he wants, even if (especially if) computers can’t actually do that. As a character, his relationship with Ro is alternatively bitchy and supportive, depending solely on the needs of the story at the moment. Ro also has a boyfriend (Gary Dourdan), but he’s barely a presence in the story and their relationship amounts to little more than a few minutes of wasted screen time.

If the supporting players are mostly non-entities, the two supposed stars of this movie are left with little to do but wear nice clothes and speak largely brainless lines. I suppose they deserve some credit for making it through the whole film with a straight face, but we don’t know how many takes it took to accomplish that. Berry’s character is wholly unconvincing (and mostly annoying) as a crusading journalist. It doesn’t help that her character’s actions with respect to Harrison Hill would amount to something like obstructing justice in the real world. For his part, the character of Hill couldn’t be less menacing if you cast Richard Simmons in the role.

It probably wouldn’t surprise anyone that Perfect Stranger builds to an almost inevitable twist ending that’s as predictable as it is unsatisfying. I suppose it would be bad form for me to reveal the twist, but spilling the beans might be the humane thing to do, if it spares you the need to sit through this waste of two hours.

This movie would have been better if it had been made with no name actors for late-night “Skin-a-max.” At least then it would have the gratuitous sex scenes that might have given it some entertainment value. I’m not saying that having the Halle Berry character sleep with the lesbian Amazon assistant would have made this a good movie, but it wouldn’t have hurt.

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