You can give it this – Perfect Stranger starts somewhat promising. You see investigative newspaper journalist Rowena (Halle Berry), hand out the scoop of the year about a scandal around a powerful senator. Then the editor of the newspaper buries the scoop because of some political pressure, and she ups and quits.
You really think that this is going to be a political thriller, and will include underhanded journalistic approaches, showcasing the murk on both sides. But, oh no, this is just the set-up for Rowena. The film has nothing much to do with this part of the story. After she quits, almost immediately, an old childhood friend (Nicki Aycox) meets up with her. Almost immediately once again, she is found murdered.
Rowena suspects Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), a high-flying advertising executive. So she does what any other self-respecting out-of-work journalist would do – she poses as a secretary and takes up a job at the ad agency and starts flirting with the boss.
Oh, and not only that, she also starts chatting with him online using different aliases because, well, the movie needs to do something before the end. So we’ve also got Miles (Giovanni Ribisi), who helps Rowena out and doles out tons of expository dialog, just because, hey, the movie needs something to do before the end. I say that because the manner in which the movie tacks blame on a guy in the end twist, it could have been anyone, really. All they needed was any guy to latch the blame onto the end pages of the script. It’s that clueless.
The biggest fault in this laughably written and directed thriller – and I use the word thriller very loosely here – is that it tries entirely too hard to be serious and provocative and relevant. Someone should tell them that just because it features the Internet doesn’t mean it’s topical, simple because the chat angle has nothing much to do with the actual mystery.
The script is not just overly bulky and pretentious, though – it is also clearly very ridiculous. It tries to include an all encompassing suspect list based on whom the dead woman has slept with – which is fine, but then Rowena goes ahead and befriends one of them, making him hack into people’s firewalls for her. Some of the thrill-inducing moments fall flat mostly because of some preposterous reasons and expositions following them.
Director James Foley obviously thought that since his film is a sexual (don’t worry, censors here are never kind) thriller, he needs edgy dialog. With the enthusiasm and also intelligence of a 10-year-old, Todd Komarnicki churns up dialog straight from the early ‘90s films – and not the good ones, but the really, truly terrible ones. The kind of dialog the main protagonists speak in the film makes one wonder if they ever spoke in polite company before.
The writing may make Berry seem like a dumb woman with paternal complexes, but it makes Willis look like a much worse stupid oaf. He is painted as such a gullible, implausible brainless guy, that you roll your eyes every time he does something. The only redeeming factor is that Willis actually realizes how bad the whole enterprise is. He doesn’t take anything too seriously, and looks like he is appalled and amused by the writing at the same time.
Berry, though, is completely taking this seriously. She frets and she fumes, and she is very very angry all the time. Makes you very very tired, you know. It’s not that she does a bad job of it; it’s just that her character arc is utterly confusing in the entire film, and her acting, though not laughable, is not plausible at any juncture.
However, nothing, and I mean nothing, can top the underdeveloped and cooked climax. It’s just happenstance that this climax is something we got to see, though. I hear they shot in their entirety three different climaxes for the film. For a genre that relies on a smart twist, this goes on to show they had absolutely no clue about what they were doing.
Perfect Stranger is far from perfect; it’s a mess of a film that wastes your time and serves up an underdeveloped and embarrassingly written premise, dotted with dodgy performances. Skipping this would indeed be a perfect solution.