Perfect Stranger

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It might be selling itself as a "sexy thriller," but the cheesy, smirk-inducing reality is that "Perfect Stranger" would have been on the direct-to-DVD fast track had it not been for the names Halle Berry and Bruce Willis above the title.

Alas, the star wattage quickly dims in this slick-looking but ringingly hollow affair that starts off generically at best before collapsing into a convoluted heap of shrill screen cliches.

Audiences in the market for what looks like a potential "Fatal Attraction" or "Basic Instinct" could initially help its cause, but the overall result likely will be as unremarkable as the picture's blandly nondescript title.
Berry's Rowena Price is a go-getter investigative reporter smarting from her New York tabloid's last-minute decision not to run her big expose on an anti-gay senator's affairs with his male interns.

She quits her job but quickly finds herself back doing her intrepid thing when a childhood friend turns up murdered -- but not before leaving a naughty e-mail trail that leads to powerful Harrison Hill (Willis), a womanizing but married advertising executive.

Determined to expose Hill as the killer, Rowena poses as a temp at Hill's agency, with a little tech-savvy assistance from her pervy colleague Miles (Giovanni Ribisi), but it soon becomes clear that Hill isn't the only one in Rowena's orbit who is leading a double life.

In his first feature outing since 2003's "Confidence," director James Foley, working off a picked-over script credited to Todd Komarnicki, wishes to say something about secret identities and the truths they attempt to conceal. But it would have been advisable to first make those primary identities more credible.

For starters, nobody, Berry included, seemed to be concerned that her character needed to be a least a little likable, and in the absence of a vulnerability key to central protagonists in these kinds of movies, viewer indifference is certain to follow.

Mind you, even Mario Andretti would have had a tough time negotiating all the ridiculous twists and turns the plot takes in the final act.
Willis' character, meanwhile, isn't required to be sympathetic, but his oddly disconnected performance feels e-mailed in, rather than coming across as a palpable threat.

Filmed primarily in Manhattan, the production is given the desired sleek but soulless look courtesy of cinematographer Anastas Michos ("Freedomland") and production designer Bill Groom ("The Forgotten").
Costume designer Renee Ehrlich Kalfus' wardrobe most definitely looks quite fetching on Berry, even if it probably doesn't resemble anything that has ever seen the inside of a real investigative reporter's closet. n

Perfect Stranger
Columbia Pictures
A Revolution Studios presentation

Credits: Director: James Foley; Producer: Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas; Screenwriter: Todd Komarnicki; Story: Jon Bokenkamp; Executive producers: Ron Bozman, Deborah Schindler, Charles Newirth; Director of photography: Anastas Michos; Production designer: Bill Groom; Editor: Christopher Tellefsen; Costume designer: Renee Ehrlich Kalfus; Music: Antonio Pinto. Cast: Rowena Price: Halle Berry; Harrison Hill: Bruce Willis; Miles Haley: Giovanni Ribisi; Cameron: Gary Dourdan.


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