Fri, Apr 13, 2007 - Page 17 News List

Very far from perfect

`Perfect Stranger' should come with a boredom warning: it's a connect-the-dots thriller that fails to excite, thrill or titillate

By Glenn Whipp  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Perfect Stranger, touted as a sexy thriller, lacks thrills or sex appeal. The Oscar curse lives on for Halle Berry and has rubbed off on her fellow cast members.

PHOTO: COURTESY OF BVI

A psychological thriller in which both the psychology and the thrills are in short supply, Perfect Stranger has been trying to pass itself off as a sexy piece of intrigue in its advertising — though, again, the sex and the intrigue are nowhere to be found.

Basically, this is just another perfunctory, connect-the-dots exercise from Joe Roth's Revolution Studios, an outfit whose logo should be either a skull-and-crossbones warning or the label they put on vats of hazardous waste. Really: Isn't there some kind of consumer protection law that should shield us from having Are We Done Yet? and Perfect Stranger released in consecutive weeks?

Stranger has Halle Berry, keeping that Oscar curse alive and well, playing a New York tabloid reporter looking to get the dirt on a hotshot advertising executive (Bruce Willis, slumming, smirking) she believes murdered a childhood friend. Said friend had a fling with said ad man, Harrison Hill, and was threatening to spill the beans to Hill's wife.

Berry's reporter, with a high-tech computer hacker in tow (a de-rigueur accessory for any top-flight newspaper woman), goes undercover at the ad agency, donning form-fitting ensembles and setting up an e-mail account to lure Hill into some hot-and-heavy exchanges. This sets up the always thrilling scenario of watching people type on screen, in this case complete with heavy breathing and dialogue that would embarrass the makers of low-budget porn.

Perfect Stranger carries a story credit for Jon Bokenkamp and a screenplay credit for Todd Komarnicki. Judging from the evidence, Komarnicki's job must have consisted of going through the original draft, vacuuming up any interesting details about character, removing all traces of plausibility and turning in something sterile enough to interest Revolution and any Hollywood stars eager to cash a nice paycheck.

The movie is a virtual question-generator. Here are just a few:

Why, if Hill's watchdog wife is so suspicious of his fidelity, is Hill then able to have sex (off screen) with virtually every beautiful woman in Manhattan with the wife being none the wiser?

Why label Hill's statuesque assistant a lesbian without somehow using her sexuality in the story? (Isn't this supposed to be a "sexy" thriller?)

When did Giovanni Ribisi (who plays Berry's besotted gofer) get washboard abs?

The movie, anonymously directed by James Foley, spends so little time establishing the characters that the final revelation has no impact beyond comic relief. Who killed the girl? It could have been anyone.

It probably was everyone, with the "winner" picked by market research.

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