Perfect Stranger Movie Review

Perfect Stranger brings us to the end of an era: Halle Berry finally sports nice hair. Gone is the too-close crop of Swordfish and Die Another Day, the single-mom bangs of Monster's Ball, and that white Storm hair that just didn't work, no matter how often it was reshaped. In Perfect Stranger, as ball-busting investigative journalist Rowena, she wears it up, down, pulled back, always looking great, as if making up for lost glamour time.

Of course, the filmmakers behind Perfect Stranger would probably be insulted by my focus on hairstyle. They've made a movie, not an US Weekly article, with two big stars and a twist-heavy story, and I'm sure they'd rather I discuss more important aspects than Halle Berry's hair, such as Halle Berry's body or Halle Berry's frequent and slinky costume changes.

They can't claim to care much about the movie itself; they hired Bruce Willis just to stand around and look sleazy. Willis can be a subtle and resourceful actor when he needs to, but is faced with no such necessity in the role of Harrison Hill an ultra-powerful ad executive who may have killed a model -- Berry's chlidhood friend -- after an affair gone bad.

To investigate this possibility, Berry -- fresh from quitting her job with a New York Post-like paper after they put the kibosh on her congressional sex-scandal story -- goes undercover not just as a temp at said ad agency, but online, too. With the help of her nerdy, possibly alcoholic tech-savvy sidekick (Giovanni Ribisi), she tracks down Harrison's AOL-like screen name and engages in some steamy, anonymous instant-messaging. Supposedly this is how Harris met the dead girl, too, bringing about an intra-screenplay competition: Is it less plausible that such a power player would meet his mistresses online, or that said online mistresses would turn out to be models?

But the chief source of Perfect Stranger's ridiculousness is not its tenuous online-thriller component; I happen to love watching filmmakers struggle to make internet chat cinematic or sexy. Usually this involves lousy-medium interfaces that are neither remotely realistic nor much more exciting than a shot of Yahoo Messenger; this film adds some pointless voice-over software into the mix.

No, there are far worse problems here than software compatibility. Perfect Stranger is one of those movies that wants to be a sexy, adult thriller, but garners an R rating not through any kind of real sexuality, but via corpse nudity and F-words. Especially F-words: the film is perfectly trashy but too chatty by half, never bothering to work up actual suspense. It's made clear early on that the screenplay is simply withholding some kind of information that, when revealed, will play the part in a twist we're supposed to be too forgetful to see coming. That's not suspense so much as it is obstruction of ending.

That strategy would work better if the film distracted us with interesting characters or performances. Willis is so accustomed to appearing in lousy movies that he appears able to keep his head down and power through without thinking about it; he squints and smirks and occasionally snarls. His reward, besides the paycheck, is a lot of long gazes at his gorgeous co-star, who appears much more invested in the proceedings. Berry gives the bad material her overemphatic all, droppin' her Gs to show off her street cred and angrily yelling some of her lines to, I don't know, show off an inner turmoil that Berry doesn't try to convey with her eyes or body language. At least her hair finally looks great; maybe the next Berry era will deliver on the promise of her Oscar win.

Perfect Stranger does have a lurid fascination in the way that every character reveals some degree of sleaze. For awhile you might have fun playing spot-the-kink, but you don't get a prize if you win. This kind of adult entertainment will have parents pining to take their kids to movies again.

And on the margarita, I specifically said no salt. No salt!


Perfect Stranger Rating

" Grim "

Rating: R, 2007


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