Far from Perfect
Exploiting the mind-boggling and often insecure world of the Internet, Perfect Stranger begins as a smart cookie and ends up as stale crumbs.
In this techno-noir thriller, Halle Berry plays Rowena “Ro” Price, an investigative reporter for a New York newspaper, who writes a column under a male name. As the result of an investigation she and co-worker/web geek Miles Haley, portrayed by Giovanni Ribisi, have worked on for six months, Rowena is about to expose a Washington senator as a fraud. After the story is submitted, congrats from her boss and too many drinks at the bar while congratulating themselves, Ro and Miles end up with nothing to celebrate the next morning. Why? Because higher powers found out about the story, and it got pulled. Fed up with unethical politics, Ro quits her job.
Her investigative capabilities are soon back in swing when Ro's old friend, Grace Clayton (Nicki Aycox) suddenly shows up with a life crisis, one Ro seems oddly willing to take on. Grace has been dating Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), the high profile owner of New York's largest advertising agency H2H.
Unfortunately, this is where screenwriter Todd Komarnicki, adapting the story by Jon Bokenkamp, drops the ball as the movie splinters off in too many improbable directions. Through flashback scenes of Ro's earlier life that never quite spell out what happened but allude to injustices to Ro which somehow involve Grace, Ro feels indebted to help her friend. Her motivation jumps into high gear when Grace is found dead, and the coroner's report leads Ro to believe Harrison is the killer.
Ro wrangles her way into the H2H agency as a temp known as Katherine Pogue. Even though Harrison's dictator and assistant (Daniella Van Graas) warns Katherine/Ro never to speak to Harrison without going through her, Ro has no problem getting the man to notice her. Although he's married to the wealthy and exotic but vigilant Mia (Paula Miranda), Harrison is known for his infidelities.
Ro enlists Miles’ help to find Grace's email and discovers she had threatened to tell Harrison's wife about their affair. Miles also uncovers Harrison's email address, and Ro begins coming on to him as Veronica, a former employee Harrison had a crush on. Therefore, in essence, Ro is playing the part of two "Perfect Strangers."
Miles, we soon learn, is so obsessed with Ro he hides in a corner to watch her making love with her boyfriend and Grace's ex, Cameron (Gary Dourdan). Obviously, Miles will do anything to be as near to Ro as he can. A telling scene shows him behind her in a conversation and dipping his head, allowing his nose to delicately touch her hair. His eyes glaze over as he inhales a whiff. Ribisi is terrific here as the seemingly love-struck friend whose darker side emerges as the heart of the film.
Berry is compelling to watch, as usual, especially when Harrison discovers Katherine is not who she seems, and Ro's own life is in jeopardy. Berry's innate sexiness yet underlying naiveté keep viewers enthralled in any role she takes on, even the ridiculous Catwoman proved that point. The disappointment in Perfect Stranger does not lie in her performance, as she seemed to have confidence in the story.
"To a certain extent, everybody lives a double life," said Berry. "We all hide something, even from our best friends. This movie highlights that and takes it to the next level, showing what we're capable of when we're forced to come to terms with it."
Willis is also an actor we can count on to bring a character to life, but he's one-note in this movie -- boring. I was far more convinced he's simpleminded and would rather score a lay than worry about his high profile company and remain faithful to his watch-dog wife.
Director James Foley's (Confidence) film attempts to answer the question, "How far would a person go to keep a secret from the past?" Had he stayed within the confines of that theme, Perfect Stranger could have been a far better story. With its excellent cast, a stylish Vogue-ish look at New York City and the corporate world plus the inclusion of real-life Internet scenarios, the movie did have entertaining possibilities.
However, everyone in the film changes identities as quickly as they might sneeze -- and they succeed too easily at farfetched endeavors. Also, the twists are piled on so high, the film becomes an unexecutable maze. No wonder Perfect Stranger disappoints in the end.
(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated "R" for sexual content, nudity, some disturbing violent images and language)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.