1) The casual moviegoer who is craving an ever-so slightly stylized thriller but who doesn't really see enough films to truly discern whether a suspense thriller is actually any good or not...
2) The just plain lazy moviegoer who couldn't care less about storyline, character development or, for that matter, whether or not a suspense thriller is actually remotely suspenseful or thrilling.
Starring Oscar-winning Halle Berry in yet another post-Oscar meltdown, "Perfect Stranger" centers around Rowena (Berry), a reporter who goes undercover to nail (in more ways than one) powerful advertising exec Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis) for the murder of her childhood friend with the help of her loyal sidekick, Miles (Giovanni Ribisi).
Have you ever found yourself up at watching one of those erotic thrillers on Cinemax with stylized soft-porn, nonsensical storylines, convoluted twists and not a semblance of storyline in sight? You remember the ones...half of them starred Shannon Tweed. Well, picture one of these late night Cinemax films without the stylized soft-porn to distract you from the numerous other flaws of the film. What do you end up with?
One has to wonder why Berry feels compelled to keep making films in a genre in which she is so woefully inadequate. Am I the only one who sat through this film thinking that I'd much rather have seen Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks having cyber sex in "You've Got Mail" than have to sit through this forced, bland and deeply flawed film from director James Foley ("Glengarry Glen Ross" and "Fear")?
Berry, who seems to be channeling Catwoman, Sharon Stone and Shannon Tweed, has nearly reached the Cuba Gooding, Jr. point in her career. Berry should have learned her lesson after the "Catwoman" debacle earned her a Razzie Award. While it was with wonderful spirit that she actually showed up to accept her Razzie, she's getting dangerously close to owning more Razzie awards than Oscars.
That's simply not a good career move.
Willis, on the other hand, never really moves beyond the "slick dude with a dark side" shtick that is moderately fun to watch but ultimately devoid of soul or meaning. This isn't a challenging role for Willis, and he doesn't extend any extra effort to add any extra dimensions to his character.
Perhaps the only saving grace is Giovanni Ribisi, long one of Hollywood's most underrated actors, who somehow nearly raises this film up to mediocrity with a performance that is simultaneously sad, funny, irritating and quirky. Ribisi's character is either a pathetic, lovestruck admirer for Berry or a complete psycho to be watched. This performance resembles Ribisi's work in "The Gift," and he even elevates Berry's performance during their scenes together.
The script, by Todd Komarnicki ("Resistance"), seems to be striving for a complex, multi-layered thriller but too often jerks its way through contrived happenings and illogical plot points. Even the film's twist ending isn't so much a twist based upon the film's journey as it is a clear choice to simply throw in an illogically developed twist upon the audience in the film's last few moments. Having not developed anything remotely suspenseful or thrilling, the film's ending feels jerky, forced and manipulative rather than an authentic result of the film's previous 90 minutes.
So, which type of audience are you?
If you're a casual moviegoer who couldn't discern between "Memento" and a late-night Shannon Tweed flick, then "Perfect Stranger" may very well have you on the edge of your seat.
If you're a just plain lazy moviegoer who wants to see a suspense thriller that won't make you work, won't make you think and won't make you sweat then "Perfect Stranger" may ultimately be enough to satisfy you.
However, if you are an experienced, energetic, motivated and intelligent moviegoer who requires a coherent storyline, richly developed characters, suspense that is suspenseful and a thriller that actually thrills then "Perfect Stranger" will have you sitting in your seat, checking your watch and praying you haven't actually figured out the twist ending in the first 15 minutes.
On a certain level, "Perfect Stranger" reminds me of the flaws present in another recent Willis film, "Lucky Number Slevin," though that film worked considerably better than this one. Both films fell victim to believing themselves to be far more innovative and intelligent than they really were and, in this case, "Perfect Stranger" collapses under the weight of its poorly developed and illogical storylines that are served up as a kaleidoscope of suspense film cliche's...often beautiful to look at but ultimately meaningless.
Even the film's occasionally attractive camera work is limited by Foley's blatant use of product placement on at least three occasions. This placement, obvious and jarring, disrupts what little flow the movie possesses each time it occurs.
There are times, undoubtedly, when even a bad suspense thriller can be worth watching. This, however, is not one of those times. Skip "Perfect Stranger" or, better yet, the next time you're sitting at home alone unable to sleep at 2am...flip on Cinemax and look for "Perfect Stranger." I promise. It will put you right to sleep.
- Richard Propes
The Independent Critic