Perfect Stranger

Movie Information

The Story: A journalist goes undercover at an ad agency to investigate the company's CEO, who she believes murdered her old friend. The Lowdown: The best that can be said about this film is that it's competent, but it suffers from a lack of sympathetic characters and a convoluted twist ending.
Genre: Thriller
Director: James Foley
Starring: Halle Berry, Bruce Willis, Giovanni Ribisi, Gary Dourdan, Richard Portnow
Rated: R

No, Perfect Stranger is not a theatrical adaptation of the old ‘80s sitcom Perfect Strangers—although I would have preferred it if the makers had gone that route, because no matter how horrible it would have been, seeing Halle Berry as Balki would be infinitely more interesting than anything that’s currently in this tepid excuse for a thriller. The title by itself is a pretty good indication of the territory this film is trading in. The very idea of titling your film anything that recalls a Bronson Pinchot sitcom is boneheaded—like naming your heist movie Mr. Belvedere or your action flick Who’s the Boss?

The film follows Berry as big-shot muckraker reporter Rowena, who has a seemingly chance encounter with her old friend Grace (Nicki Aycox, Jeepers Creepers II). Grace confides that she has been having an affair with powerful ad executive Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), and since Hill no longer wants anything to do with Grace, she asks Rowena for help in making Hill’s transgressions public. Grace soon turns up dead, and Rowena, with the help of nerdy coworker Miles (Giovanni Ribisi), manages to land a temp job at Hill’s company in order to uncover the truth—instead of simply telling the police. Why she handles the situation in this way is never really addressed, which brings us to the film’s first problem: There isn’t one likable character in the entire film. Rowena’s a selfish glory hound, while Hill’s a lecherous womanizer. When Miles, who turns out to be a creep and a stalker, is the closest thing you have to a sympathetic character, your film is in trouble. The audience is never given anyone to root for, and therefore is never given any reason to care.

The film is supposed to be a type of whodunit story. But it is written in such a way to make the audience certain that there can only be one outcome, before the movie’s supposedly “revelatory” and “shocking” twist ending (two things which the ending is not) changes everything. While the ending works in a limited sense—it explains some of the quirks in Rowena’s character—it’s ultimately too contrived to be effective, and worse, it’s a cheat. The twist makes everything that took place earlier in the narrative superfluous and pointless; you’ve just spent the past two hours watching a movie the entire point of which was for the makers to trick you with how “clever” they think they are. It even comes prepackaged with the requisite The Usual Suspects-style ending (as seen in the Saw series and The Illusionist (2006), just to name a couple), where we are shown, through voiceover and flashbacks, exactly how smart everyone involved was in fooling the audience.

The movie tries to tack on some phony commentary about the nature of voyeurism, which ends up feeling like a lame—not to mention failed—attempt at adding importance to the movie. And to a lesser extent, it touches just a bit on Internet addiction, though this is quickly abandoned as soon as it is introduced. In the end, this might be the film’s greatest failing, since there were a few chances for the film to turn into something more than it is. But since no one knew how to accomplish that, Perfect Stranger never ends up being anything more than adequate. Rated R for sexual content, nudity, some disturbing violent images and language.

— reviewed by Justin Souther


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