Perfect Stranger

Laughter is defined as an expression of merriment and amusement, and as such is usually a telltale sign of entertainment. If Perfect Stranger is anything (it certainly is NOT a stylish psychological thriller) it is proof that within the realm of film, laughter does not always indicate entertainment. Looking back on this horrible mess of a movie a day after watching it, I can only seem to recall how unintentionally funny it was. By the time the film starts to unravel itself, it’s far more entertaining to ridicule the ridiculous twists and turns of the plot than to actually care about who did it and why. In the end, it’s much more fulfilling to simply let out a hearty laugh rather than gawking open-mouthed at the screen and asking yourself, “why did I just watch that?” Perfect Stranger follows Rowena (Halle Berry), an ambitious investigative journalist working for a big time New York newspaper. The film opens with Rowena coming dangerously close to outing a Senator and his homosexual tendencies, only to have her story pulled by what she dramatically suspects is, “powerful men protecting powerful men.” It therefore goes without saying that her next target is, you guessed it -- another “powerful man”. That man is Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), a highly successful ad executive who although married, enjoys the company of other women (read: not a clichéd character in any way). Conveniently, with impeccable timing and literally out of thin air, Ro’s childhood friend Grace (Nicki Aycox) arrives with the juicy news that she is one of Hill’s other women. Evidently, Hill has lost interest in Grace and she now seeks revenge by threatening to go public with his adulterous ways. The absolute total shocker comes when Grace is found floating in the river a week later, which only leads to one conclusion: Harrison Hill killed her to keep her quiet!

Luckily for Rowena, Grace and Hill were primarily a cyberspace fling, and she has her very own techno-wizard Miles (Giovanni Ribisi) to follow their online trail. He also scores her a job at Hill’s advertising firm so that she can strike up a personal relationship with him and keep a closer eye on the prime suspect. Enjoy this moment when you get there because it’s the only logical occurrence you will find; there is simply no denying Halle Berry’s beauty, even in an awful role, and it’s absolutely believable that Hill falls for her. The rest of the film sputters along and is suffocated by blaring inconsistencies, plot holes, totally implausible characters and one too many instant messaging scenes. These extremely agonizing sequences appear to be in support of fleshing out the whole notion that we are all really strangers to each other and that everybody keeps secrets. Using the online world as a microcosm for our own reality is an interesting theme, but it would have helped if they had extended it beyond Rowena and Hill engaging in online foreplay under the pseudonyms “rocketgirl” and “ADEX.” To make matters worse, the characters are only affected by these secrets and inner demons for the mere four minutes needed to conclude the far-fetched storyline, but they are non-existent for the other hour and a half when it grows tiresome to try in vain to give the film credibility.

Admittedly, the psychological thriller genre is difficult to perfect, and they often fall into two categories: Sometimes they start off with a flash and nail the first half, only to be undone by an absurd end; other attempts begin pitifully bad but are made respectable by a flourishing finale that is both subtle and smart. Unfortunately, Perfect Stranger falls into a third category that is beyond saving. It meanders painfully through the initial stages and is already so horridly misguided by the midpoint that a bid to swing it back to mediocrity by slam-dunking the ending only compounds the mistake. It’s almost as if writer Todd Kormanicki selected completely random ways for certain characters to be connected, decided to intertwine them at insanely illogical times and then inexplicably linked them back together at the end for some sort of redeeming finale. I’m not sure how he expected it to work, but it most definitely doesn’t and the final twist is actually the funniest one of all. Not to take anything away from Ribisi, because he was really quite good, but when the most promising aspect of a thriller is a supporting actor’s performance, it means there was a significant lack of thrills. In a case like Perfect Stranger, not even a four hour “making of” and a commentary from the director coupled with the three main actors could make it a worthwhile DVD purchase, nor would it add any insight to the film. Luckily, the studios were thinking along the same lines because the Special Features are pretty non-existent. There is a mere twelve minute “making of” feature, a BluRay advertisement/combination trailer for a few upcoming releases, and a few trailers, including numerous of the straight to DVD variety.

The two trailers for not yet released films are Resident Evil: Extinction and 30 Days of Night. Resident Evil looks lame, but I’m not a fan so take it with a grain of salt. If you were into the first two, I guess I can tell you it will probably be very similar in quality. 30 Days of Night stars Josh Hartnett, who is one of my least favourite actors – can you imagine how much I am anticipating is latest release? In all seriousness though I don’t understand how some of these films even get made, let alone into to theatres. I will give them this much, they did keep the themes consistent throughout the whole package: only mediocre, bad or dreadful films made the cut.

As for the “making of”, I’m afraid I still don’t have anything positive to say. In fact, it’s almost worse than the film if you can believe that. Basically all it is, is a twelve minute compliment-fest between those being interviewed. The director and writer gush about how beautiful and lovely Halle Berry is (like we don’t know) and then they proceed to practically kick-start her Oscar campaign. Following this, they move on to Willis and Ribisi, claiming that they brought so much energy and professionalism to their roles. Ribisi maybe, but Willis totally mailed it in. Then Halle and everyone else joins in a collective ego massage for director James Foley, calling him a visionary and attesting that it was his strength that propelled them to such a successful finished product. Hah! Obviously they aren’t going to get in front of the camera and talk about how disappointed they are with the film, but they’ve certainly all done much better and I’m sure they’re aware of that.

I suppose that brings us to the conclusion, which is that there is undoubtedly no reason to buy Perfect Stranger on DVD. Nothing in the film, or in the special features section justifies spending the $20-25.