Is it just my imagination, or has Hollywood become completely obsessed with the twist ending? Don’t get me wrong, I love a good turn of events at the end of a story. Especially when it completely blows my mind or instantaneously changes my perspective on the last hour and a half in a way I never expected. That’s good stuff. But, the obsession has gotten a little out of control. It seems like every other director and writer is out there trying hard to create the next The Sixth Sense. The problem is, few of them are very good at it.
Perfect Stranger is one of those movies that makes a great effort at creating an unexpected ending, but it gets so caught up in trying to shock and awe you with a reality shattering, mind blowing, soda spilling twist that it forgets to make the rest of the story worth watching. In fact, at times it gets so dull and confusing that it threatens to put the audience to sleep, thereby causing them to miss the very ending it’s trying so desperately to set up.
That’s not to say it’s a boring story, just one that’s not told all that well. Rowena (Halle Berry) is an investigative reporter who lives for the kill. Her gift is exposing the secrets of others, like a family values centered Senator who lately has been centering his values on his young male interns. She digs up the dirt she needs, thanks mostly to her research assistant Miles (Giovanni Ribisi), who is so ridiculously good at technowizardy and hacking server firewalls that he makes the gang at CTU on “24” look like they’re playing Atari.
One evening Grace, a childhood friend of Rowena’s, shows up unexpectedly and offers her the story of a lifetime. Thanks to the wonders of online chat, Grace has developed a relationship with Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), the world’s most successful (and apparently most adulterous) advertising guru. The relationship turned sexual and then turned sour, with Grace getting the boot. Now she wants revenge by exposing Hill for the womanizer he really is, a task right up Rowena’s alley. At first Rowena doesn’t seem terribly interested, but when her friend ends up dead she decides there just might be more worth uncovering.
It’s an easy opening to the story, one which unfolds in the first few moments of the film, but it’s also where it hits a lull. What would otherwise take twenty minutes and three commercial breaks in an episode of “CSI” is drawn out into over an hour of sleepy undercover work and sometimes painful melodrama. Things get interesting when Giovanni Ribisi’s character is involved, but that can be attributed to the fact that the guy is just an amazing actor to watch. If you ask me the real twist in this movie is that Halle Berry has an Oscar and Ribisi doesn’t. Most of Rowena’s undercover work happens either online or in Hill’s posh New York ad agency where she poses as a temp assistant. By night she’s in adult chatrooms, doing her best to seduce horny Hill into a sexual encounter that she can use to entrap him. Lacking any better ideas on how to bring him down, she also spends her days going for the entrapment through sexual seduction. Meanwhile Miles is frantically hacking his way through cyberspace trying to dig up dirty e-mails that connect Hill to Grace’s death. Most of the time the action plays out like a useless combination of The Net and Disclosure. Even Bruce Willis, who is usually an almost sure fire solution to waking up a snoozer scene, isn’t able to generate any sparks.
Obviously I’m not going to spoil the plot for you, but I will say that if you’re even remotely attentive you’ll guess the main gist of the ending early on. Director James Foley doesn’t do the best job of keeping his secrets from the audience, dropping agonizingly obvious hints like a tittering little kid who is desperate for you to guess what he knows. Fortunately the movie saves a few little treats at the end that you might not see coming. As well, the film’s final scenes are so smooth and so well crafted it’s almost like someone else took over for Foley to direct them. Of course that’s not the case, but if he had done half as well with the entire movie as he did with his twist ending, Foley might just have one of the better thriller films of the year on his hands. Unfortunately he didn’t and instead Perfect Stranger winds up as perfect mediocrity.