Memo to Hollywood: no more instant messaging in movies. Aside from the phoney-baloney software layouts that always strike the eye as odd, the message boxes are invariably blown up big enough so that Stevie Wonder could read the text, and the chatters still feel compelled to verbalize their every keystroke for the benefit of the audience. It all comes off as incredibly fake, which actually makes it a good thematic match for Perfect Stranger, where everything comes off as fake. This is one of those mechanically-minded thrillers that sacrifices logic, character and common sense in order to lay 90 minutes of groundwork for a last-minute twist. I'm perfectly willing to admit that I didn't guess the ending, but I think it's fair to say the movie cheats to get there. I don't think it cheats in the classic plot-hole sense so much as it cheats in the psychological sense. To say more would give too much away, but let me say this -- people suffering under profound emotional stress can't possibly 'conceal' it to the extent that occurs here.
Perfect Stranger, a James Foley film, follows the character of Rowena, an urban newspaper reporter played by Halle Berry whose journalistic calling card is apparently forging false identities. When we first meet her, she's posing as (I think) a public relations expert in order to dupe a crooked congressman into confessing to an illicit affair. Later on in the film, she'll take on the identity of an office temp in order to get close to a suspect in the murder case the film revolves around. Is that what they're teaching in journalism school these days -- how to cook up phoney resumes in order to get a scoop that no newspaper in the country would publish after the reporter explained to the editor how the information was dubiously obtained? Yeah, I know -- shut up, Ryan. Anyway, the kickstand on the plot goes up when Rowena's childhood friend, Grace, shows up in town, drops some hints that she's in trouble with powerful people and then quickly turns up murdered. Needless to say, Grace sets out to find the killer of her friend.
There are two other main players who circle Rowena in the plot -- Miles, played by Giovanni Ribisi and Harrison, played by Bruce Willis. Casting these two talented actors in the film was a good idea, I guess, but also all the more annoying since they are forced to follow the red herring playbook step by step, instead of fleshing out real characters. Willis, who plays a powerful advertising executive who may or may not have been having an affair with Grace that went sour, at one point goes ballistic on an underling at work, beating the snot out of him in front of the entire office. This is done, obviously, for the benefit of the single-celled organisms in the audience who need to be shown that this mild-mannered ad man is capable of quick, sudden shifts into violent psychopath mode. It won't weigh on the minds of those audience members that any boss who committed such an assault wouldn't be boss of the company by the end of the day, probably, but cooling his heels in a holding cell.
The character of Miles has one function -- to constantly remind us that he's creepily in love with Halle Berry's character. The only question, of course, is whether his obsession is contained to sad, late-night masturbating sessions or whether it's a psychotic, unleashed, murderous kind of obsession. The movie never quite answers the question of why an upscale, successful Manhattan reporter like Berry's character would tolerate a rootless, IT-fixer-style 20-something hanging around her night and day -- he can apparently drop in on her apartment at will, even though we later learn that she's never been to his. So, who is the killer? The normally mild-mannered ad man who is prone to sudden bursts of uncontrolled anger? Or is it the uber-creepy computer geek who gets crazy eyes every time Halle Berry tells him she just wants to be friends? Or is it Halle Berry herself? Or is it a minor character who'll show up in the last five minutes to deliver a James Bond villain-style speech about who they really are and why they've been wronged?
Sadly, it's not worth seeing the film to find out, because these characters are all so paper-thin and illogically constructed that you won't care one way or another. Perfect Stranger is a movie grown in a lab, concerned only with making sure that it gets its complicated plot from A to Z without the audience getting wise -- everything else be damned. If you're the kind of person who goes to the movies looking for performances or even earned surprises, this isn't the movie for you. And if you're the kind of person who goes to the movies hoping to see Halle Berry naked, then I'm sorry to inform you that this also isn't the movie for you. And if you're the kind of person who enjoys run-of-the-mill thrillers that can at least generate some really tense moments if nothing else, then this isn't the movie for you. And if you're the kind of person who goes to the movies to see a well-constructed Bruce Willis toupee, this also isn't the movie for you.