DVD Release Date:  August 21, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  April 13, 2007
Rating:  R (for sexual content, nudity, some disturbing violent images and language)
Genre:  Thriller
Run Time:  109 min.
Director:  James Foley
Actors:  Halle Berry, Bruce Willis, Giovanni Ribisi, Richard Portnow, Gary Dourdan, Nicki Aycox

Opening on Friday the 13th, Perfect Stranger updates the “slasher movie” for the Information Age. Chat rooms and cell phones take the place of summer camps and mental institutions, and kinky sex between consenting adults replaces the stolen moments between teens in those earlier horror films. But when there’s killing to be done, bladed instruments still do the trick.

Reporter Rowena Price (Halle Berry) has a secret. She’s been tipped off by a friend, Gina (Nicki Aycox), about a story that may expose powerful ad executive Henry Hill (Bruce Willis) to public shame. When Gina disappears and ends up in the morgue, Rowena goes undercover as a temp in Hill’s office to discover the truth behind her murder.

Aiding her investigation is Miles Hailey (Giovanni Ribisi), a newsroom sidekick who assists Rowena in the technical challenges of her job (breaking into e-mail accounts and setting up false identities for Rowena to use in online chats). However, his interest in the beautiful Rowena is more than strictly professional.

Hill also takes a personal interest in Rowena – just as the reporter suspected the notorious ladies’ man would do. It’s a quick tango from workplace introduction to a late-night drink, and the chance for Rowena to use her feminine wiles on her new boss.

As the savvy Rowena strings Hill along, Miles works overtime to break into Hill’s e-mail account and allow Rowena, in an online guise, to coax information from Hill that might implicate him in Gina’s murder. Hill and Rowena engage in seriously sexual banter, much of which is conducted during the workday, with the reporter stationed just outside of Hill’s office. It’s only a matter of time before Hill discovers Rowena’s ulterior motives. But will Rowena uncover the identity of Gina’s murderer first?

Perfect Stranger is directed by James Foley, a sad case of an artist whose career once seemed promising. Two of the director’s early films, After Dark My Sweet and At Close Range, garnered attention for their stylish look and moody performances. The filmmaker peaked shortly thereafter, way back in 1992, with Glengarry Glen Ross, an electrifying interpretation of a David Mamet play, with strong performances from an all-male cast. Yet for every memorable performance in an atmospheric film (Sean Penn in At Close Range), there was a forgettable lead performance in a notorious Foley stinker (Penn’s former wife, Madonna, in Who’s That Girl?). The director’s more recent output has been undistinguished, at best, and all of the star power behind Perfect Stranger doesn’t change that.

As for Berry, she’s yet another winner of the Best Actress Oscar who has gone on to lesser projects, squandering the instant respectability granted after her historic Oscar win for Monster’s Ball (Berry was the first African-American to win that award).

However, Berry’s acting is not the problem with Perfect Stranger, nor is Willis’ appropriately smarmy performance. The movie never gives them a chance, saddled as it is with a story (from the same man [Jon Bokenkamp] who adapted the novel behind the Angelina Jolie flick Taking Lives) that has too many rabbit trails and conceals too much information. The “big reveal” of the killer is simply preposterous, not to mention interminable. The several minutes of screen time used to illuminate the identity of Grace’s murderer feel like even more of an insult, coming as they do after 90 minutes of leadenly paced material that precedes them.

The best movies can become like old friends, a pleasure to see from time to time. Others are like uninvited guests – perfect strangers who deserve to be shown the door, never to be welcomed again.

Can you guess which category this movie falls into?

AUDIENCE:  Adults

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  Lord’s name taken in vain; multiple profanities.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Drinking in a bar and at home.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Discussion of an inappropriate relationship between a male senator and a male page; reference to masturbation; back of topless woman shown, with edges of breasts exposed; lovers grab each other and have sex, while another man secretly listens in; sexual activity witnessed through an apartment window; lesbian reference; discussion of sexual escapades; open-mouth kissing; infidelity; implied child sexual molestation; a bare-chested man; nude pin-ups; online pornographic images.
  • Violence:  Discussion of media treatment of dead bodies returning from Iraq; a woman’s mutilated corpse is shown; a boss assaults an employee; a man is fatally struck with a blunt instrument, blood is shown.