April 19, 2007

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Perfect Stranger (R)
Halle Berry wins the prize for Least Realistic Portrayal of a Reporter in Film (unseating Julia Roberts of I Love Trouble) in Perfect Stranger, the breathlessly presented flat-tire of a suspense film.

It’s unfortunate that Berry here is a reporter rather than a detective or a cop or just a nosy girl — it makes this mess of a story just that much harder to swallow. In the movie’s opening scenes we see Rowena (Berry) perform a little “gotcha” sting on a sleazy politician that is (1) unrealistic, (2) unprofessional and (3) sure to lose her the big story she thinks she’s about to bag. She does, of course, lose the story and proceeds to throw a big boozy tantrum at the bar where she and her research assistant (don’t even get me started…) Miles (Giovanni Ribisi) were celebrating their front-page victory when her editor comes to inform her that the story is pulled. We also find out in this scene that she publishes under the name David Shane, which would make perfect sense if (a) she were working on the desk of a gossip columnist named David Shane or (b) this were 1921. She’s not and it’s not, and so I’m already in danger of injury from such vigorous rolling of my eyes and that’s even before she gets to the gorgeous loft apartment that she can not only afford on her reporter salary but also comfortably afford to keep even though she’s quit and has no immediate source of income.

(If I actually yelled “oh, come on!” in the theater, I apologize to the other movie-goers — though, frankly, I don’t really remember there being other moviegoers.)

On the way back to her apparently rent-free palace, Rowena bumps into Grace (Nicki Aycox), a childhood friend with whom she has an inexplicably bitchy relationship. Grace pesters Rowena, or, excuse me, “David Shane,” to write about Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), a wealthy advertising executive with whom Grace had a passionate online affair and a one-night stand and who then dumped her. Grace wants to get back at Harrison and tells Rowena it’s a big story and she’s got e-mails that prove they had an adulterous relationship. And I suppose that would be a big story if instead of “ad executive,” she’d said, oh, I don’t know, “astronaut” and instead of “e-mails that prove they had an adulterous relationship” she’d said “e-mails that proved he killed a man. In space. Using only the powers of his mind.”

Mere days after trying to publicly embarrass a wealthy man nobody gives a poop about, Grace winds up dead and Rowena decides to pick up that weary movie load and Find Her Friend’s Killer. She does this by skulking around in a fetching cap and then by taking a temp job in Harrison’s office under an assumed name. Seeking to lure him into an affair similar to that Grace had with him, Rowena flirts with him at work and online, requiring us to spend countless unretrievable minutes of our lives watching her and Hill instant message each other.

That’s right, this movie consists of making us watch people type. The only thing worse than that is how the movie tries to razzle-dazzle this by adding Hill’s voice imprint to his IMs, so not only are we watching them being typed, we have to hear them as well. Plenty of TV shows have figured out how to integrate computers into their storytelling without it being this mind-numbingly stupid.

And yet Dun dun DUN!, the music screams at us to let us know that what we’re watching is scary and thrilling. Except endless scenes of Berry or her helper-geek Giovanni Ribisi in front of a computer screen are not thrilling — not thrilling or chilling or ominous or gasp-inducing or important later or anything that would justify the use of such a hyperactive score. Yes, I suppose there were moments when I uneasily shifted in my seat wondering what would come next (“the end” was my hope). But tedium and suspense are not the same thing.

As we swirl deeper and deeper down the toilet that is this lunatic plot, the movie seeks to dazzle and surprise us with a series of twists (“Grace was pregnant!”) and turns (“all the men in this story slept with her!”) that really just seem like time-wasters to drag out the movie. When we finally get to the big reveal, the end feels silly and random, as though we’ve been reading a choose-your-own-adventure book and only got to this point because we’d been choosing the least interesting, most nonsensical paths. D

Rated R for sexual content, nudity, some disturbing violent images and language. Directed by James Foley and written by Todd Komarnicki and Jon Bokenkamp, Perfect Stranger is an hour and 49 minutes long and is distributed in wider release by Sony Pictures.