Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
I've been a huge Bruce Willis fan for longer than I care to mention (suffice to say I used to watch first-run episodes of Moonlighting, OK?) and I often jump to the guy's defense when one of my inevitably clueless friends makes a knock on the guy's acting skills. OK, so maybe he's not due to be an Oscar winner any time soon, but Willis (almost) always provides a colorful character whenever he's around. He's gruff, tough, likable and sardonic. I find the actor eminently enjoyable whenever he's on-screen ... almost. Like any other constantly-working actor, Bruce Willis has made his fair share of lame-egg movies -- and when Bruce
ropes a turkey, he usually ropes a really big turkey. (Hudson Hawk? North? Color of Night? Need I go on?)
Willis' latest, the limp and lethargic crime thriller known as Perfect Stranger, might not be as overwhelmingly unwatchable as Willis' lamest efforts -- but it skirts pretty close to the edge. Plus, it's much more of a Halle Berry movie than it is a Bruce Willis vehicle, so I'm guessing the guy just showed up for an easy role, got to make out with Halle for one scene, and then collected his paycheck before signing on for a better project. Basically, Perfect Stranger is a CBS Sunday Night Movie of the Week, only instead of Dean Cain and Tori Spelling, someone with delusions of quality hired Bruce Willis and Halle Berry. And they left the teleplay alone. Try this one on for size: Halle Berry plays an super-brilliant and stunningly gorgeous investigative journalist (called Rowena) who can't catch a break. (We know she's gorgeous because all the movie characters keep telling her so.) When an estranged friend from her childhood pops up, and then pops up dead, Rowena suspects a womanizing advertising tycoon known as Harrison Hill. So she does what any supermodel-hot reporter would do: She poses as a temp and gets a job working, ahem, beneath Mr. Hill, all in an effort to find out if he killed her old friend.
From that one paragraph alone, you should be able to figure out everything that happens up to the beginning of Act III -- and if you've actually seen the trailer for Perfect Stranger then you can also tell me how the flick ends. In an effort to bring some sense of mystery into a two-character story, the screenplay conjures up an assistant / sidekick / lovesick weirdo known as Miles. As played by Giovanni Ribisi, the character's every bit the one-dimensional Exposition Machine. (Until Act III, anyway, when the outrageously predictable "twist" is interrupted by a sub-twist that's as tiresome as it is insipid.)
Perfect Stranger is ultimately a big-budget big-name mess from top to bottom, a homogenized and entirely pre-packaged "thriller" that doesn't even bother doling out any "thrills." (When your most intense sequence involves -- gasp -- a glitchy computer monitor, you know you're dealing with one inert potboiler.) Whenever the movie slows down to a crawl (which is often), director James Foley simply reaches into his bag of lazy tricks and tosses something towards the screen: Hazy flashbacks, corny dream sequences, and extra-red herrings limp into view with very little enthusiasm. And the screenplay's no work of art either. "All it takes to commit murder are the right ingredients at the right time," whispers one character early on -- and the line struck me as funnier than just about anything ever delivered by Adam Sandler or Rob Schneider. (I wasn't alone either; audiences were chuckling openly at Perfect Stranger. Needless to say, the flick's not a comedy.) All premise and no plot, the movie limps forward only on the steam of non-stop, ham-fisted plot exposition. (One character, a redhead chatterbox, exists ONLY to wedge as much "set up" into the movie as she
can, and she does so quiet annoyingly.) It's a vanity project vehicle for movie star Halle Berry, and the gal didn't even bother to bring more than three discernible expressions to the party. And as far as Bruce Willis goes, the guy's got his presentation set firmly on "low-key, horny and dull." Which is not the Bruce Willis I generally pay $8.50 to see.