- Reviewed by: Mel Valentin
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Current Rating 3/10 | 35 Votes
Rowena (Halle Berry), an enterprising reporter for the (fictitious) New York Courier, loses out on exposing a corrupt senator, Sachs (Gordon MacDonald), when the senator’s friends buy one of her sources’ silence. Miles (Giovanni Ribisi), Rowena’s best friend and co-worker, is also an ace computer hacker who helps Rowena with research. Still angry at losing a lead article and the potential accolades that comes with said lead article, Rowena goes on leave. The same night, her old friend, Grace (Nicki Aycox), shows up with a story about a married advertising executive, Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), who seduced her, first online, then offline, then dumped her. Grace threatens Hill with exposure. Rowena seems uninterested in writing about Hill’s extramarital affairs. That is until Grace washes up dead in the nearby river, the victim of foul play.
Rowena decides to go undercover at Hill’s advertising firm, H2A, as a well-dressed temp in order to dig up information on Harrison Hill. With Milo’s help, Rowena gets placed as an assistant to Hill’s right-hand woman, Esmeralda (Patti D'Arbanville). Rowena soon learns, however, that access to Hill has to come through either Esmeralda or Josie (Daniella Van Graas), Hill’s other assistant. Rowena quickly befriends the office gossip, Gina (Clea Lewis), who fills in her in almost everything Rowena needs to know. Rowena begins an anonymous online flirtation with Hill who immediately reciprocates. Hill, of course, can’t resist Rowena’s physical charms either and begins seducing her away from the watchful eyes of Esmeralda, Josie, or his young wife, Mia (Paula Miranda). While Milo continues digging, Rowena has to contend with memories of sexual abuse and on-again, off-again relationship with Cameron (Gary Dourdan), a real-estate broker.
Perfect Stranger fits into the romantic thriller sub-genre popularized more than twenty years ago with Joe Esterhas’ screenplays for Jade, Sliver Basic Instinct, and Jagged Edge, but currently out of fashion. Screenwriter Todd Komarnicki, working from a story by Jon Bokenkamp, tries hard to update the sub-genre with plenty of contemporary references, e.g., the war/occupation of Iraq, the Mark Foley page scandal, but those references are superficial at best. Setting Perfect Stranger in the world of advertising allows for some major product placement (e.g., Victoria’s Secret, Reebok), without the usual in-your-face obviousness and obnoxiousness. Again, that’s as superficial as the references to contemporary events. From top to bottom, Perfect Stranger is an Esterhas-style script, with all the logic-defying plot turns and twists that implies. Sounds like (potentially) campy fun, right? Unfortunately, Perfect Stranger isn't campy enough to be fun by any definition of either word.
Perfect Stranger doesn't take long to unravel into contrivance and ridiculousness that only the most credulous, passive moviegoers are likely to accept (and that's probably an insult to credulous, passive moviegoers everywhere). Implausibilities get stacked on to improbabilities, logic is abandoned for cheap shocks, yet Perfect Stranger never rises (or is it sinks?) to the camp excess necessary to make it a "guilty pleasure" worthy of genre connoisseurs who number Basic Instinct, Showgirls, and Basic Instinct 2 among their personal and collective favorites. It's a pity because Perfect Stranger seemingly has all the necessary genre elements to make it campy, pulpy fun: murder, illicit sex, an amoral, corrupt businessman, a sleazy, unscrupulous friend, and heaploads of illogic, yet it utterly fails.
There is one exception, though, the game cast who don’t seem to realize that they shouldn’t take themselves or the material too seriously, but it's hard not to imagine director James Foley taking the screenplay far more seriously than he should have. With a director with Paul Verhoeven's sensibilities at the helm, Perfect Stranger had the potential to become a cult/camp classic. As it is, Perfect Stranger is almost instantly forgettable.
© Mel Valentin, 13th April, 2007
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