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Perfect Stranger

Perfectly Underwhelming

The usage of the "flashback" seems to be the flavor du jour these days as it was utilized extensively in the recently released The Reaping and it plays a pivotal role in the thriller, Perfect Stranger. Unfortunately, this overused device gives away the answer to the only real question in the film fairly early on. But, this is just one of the problems you’ll encounter with Perfect Stranger.

Perfect Stranger starts out in dramatic fashion with hard hitting journalist, Rowena (Halle Berry) putting a high profile senator in a very uncomfortable position. Rowena’s got the story of her career that will certainly garner her a Pulitzer. Unfortunately, her boss puts the kibosh on the story she’s been working on for months presumably because the paper backed this senator in his last campaign.

So, we’ve got one major problem right off the bat. Why would Rowena’s editor, Narron (Richard Portnow) allow her to invest countless hours, days, and months going after a story that he must have known would never have been allowed to see the light of day? Needless to say, Rowena’s is pissed to see this fat cat senator get off with his hands clean and her story squashed. In short order, Rowena quits her job and runs into her old friend, Grace (Nicki Aycox).

Apparently, Grace’s been screwing around with married, wealthy, high profile advertising executive Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis). Grace has been given the cold shoulder by Hill, has an axe to grind, and is more than ready to swing it.

She’s threatening to put Hill in a most compromising position and kindly gives Rowena some documents that could act as the seed to a story that could salve the unhealed wound from Rowena’s failed attempt at nailing the Senator. In predictable fashion, Grace shows up dead and Rowena infiltrates Hill’s organization as a "temp" in an attempt to nab him for her murder.

The set up is vaguely intriguing, but is somewhat derailed by the fact that there really aren’t any characters in the film you can identify with in any substantive way. Rowena is presumably the heroine, but in the first few scenes of the film she takes such gleeful delight in the idea of destroying a senator’s career and life, that you can’t really fully get behind her.

Then, she goes after Harrison Hill which one could rationalize as not entirely illogical given her friend shows up dead and he’s a reasonable suspect, but it comes across as more than a bit vengeful and vindictive. Rowena also has an inexplicable penchant for screwing her philandering ex-boyfriend (who also happened to sleep with Grace), which is confusing and unattractive at best.

Halle Berry is stunning to look at but her looks aren’t enough to make you forget that her character is a bit unappealing. Rowena isn’t written well, but Berry’s performance doesn’t help. Has anyone seen a good Halle Berry film since Monster’s Ball?

The only performance worth mentioning is that of Giovanni Ribisi who plays Rowena’s colleague and "houseboy", Miles. Miles has some of the more humorous lines in the film and Ribisi does a solid job of playing the character initially as an infatuated colleague and later as a bit more sinister, menacing, and complex character. But, director James Foley could have done a better job keeping Miles’ ulterior motives under wraps a bit longer.

In the end, the only part of Perfect Stranger that consistently entertains is the over the top rendering of the corporate advertising world as one filled with nymphomaniacs and Machiavellian personalities who only seem interested in getting their rocks off and screwing each other. If the real thing was only so rife with sex, drama, and intrigue people wouldn’t have to hit the snooze button on their alarm clocks on Monday mornings.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars