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Awesome: 2.08%
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5 reviews, 18 user ratings

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Perfect Stranger
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Actually, An Erotic Thriller With Balki Might Have Been Better"
1 stars

As I have stated here before, I generally object to the description of certain films as “guilty pleasures”–the kind that you know you shouldn’t love because they are too stupid or trashy for words but you do precisely because they are too stupid and trashy for words–on the theory that if they provide someone with entertainment, no matter how disreputable they may be, there is nothing to feel guilty about. However, if “Film Comment” ever asked me to pen one of the “Guilty Pleasures” columns that they occasionally feature, one film that would surely be on that list would be the jaw-dropping 1994 Richard Rush epic “The Color of Night.” If you’ve never seen the thing, it is a wildly overheated erotic thriller starring Bruce Willis as a psychologist who is so traumatized by the suicide of a patient that he is no longer able to see the color red, Jane March (whatever happened to her?) as the incredibly sexy young woman who comes into his life (in more ways than one) in a series of outfits that start just short of total nudity and proceed from there and a serial killer who appears to be targeting both Willis and the therapy group he has taken over from a recently murdered colleague. On the surface, the movie is little more than a blatant attempt to copy the stew of sex, violence and wacko plot twists that made Paul Verhoeven’s “Basic Instinct” such a success a couple of years earlier and when it came out, many people dismissed it for those very reasons.

However, a second look at the film (and not just for the Good Parts, which are legion) begins to reveal that while it may be ridiculously over-the-top erotic thriller, writer-director Richard Rush seems to have done this deliberately to create a straight-faced spoof of the excesses of this particular cinematic sub-genre in the same way that he attacked cop movies with “Freebie and the Bean” and biker movies with “ ” (To anyone who thinks that I am reading way too much into this, watch the scene in which the killer tries to grease Bruce Willis by dropping cars on him from the top of a garage and then try to explain to me that it isn’t supposed to be tongue-in-cheek.) What really makes the joke work is that Rush apparently decided to take this approach without ever mentioning it to any of his actors and the sight of them attempting to seriously go through their paces amidst all the insanity only makes the entire enterprise even funnier to behold. Go out and rent it this weekend and see for yourself–I can almost guarantee that if you look at it as a deliberate satire, you will have an absolute blast watching it.

I was thinking a lot about “The Color of Night” while watching “Perfect Stranger” and not just because the two films both feature Bruce Willis as the male lead. Like that earlier film, “Perfect Stranger” is a ridiculous hoot from start to finish but the difference is that it wants to be treated as a straightforward thriller that we are supposed to take seriously throughout. The problem is that there is no audience out there that could possibly be addled enough to take it seriously for even a second and if there is, then God help us all. It offers us the strange spectacle of a film that wants to be considered an erotic thriller despite the utter absence of eroticism, thrills or anything vaguely resembling common sense or cohesiveness. In exchange, however, it gives us the sight of some of the worst acting performances in recent memory, dialogue so risible that “Where do you keep the belladonna?” is not the silliest line of dialogue and a grand finale so off-the-charts wacky that it almost forces me to reconsider all the things I said a couple of weeks ago about the twist ending of “Dead Silence.”

The film stars Halle Berry as Roweena Price, an ace New York investigative journalist with a facility for assuming false identities in order to go undercover. When a big expose she has written involving a politician and his unsavory relationship with a young page is spiked by the powers that be for being too hard-hitting, she quits the paper and stomps off into the night. Later that evening, she runs into long-lost frenemy Grace (Nikki Aycox) and learns that she recently had a steamy-but-brief affair with powerful ad agency owner Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis) until he abruptly cut it off. Angered by this rejection, Grace wants Roweena to expose him in the press as a heel and gives her copies of some sexy e-mails as proof. Despite the fact that Grace, in the brief time that we see her, comes off as kind of a bitch and more than a little unhinged, Roweena agrees to look into it for her. About a week later, however, Nikki turns up dead with a baby in her womb and a lot of belladonna in her eyes and stomach and while she can’t prove it, of course, Roweena becomes convinced that Harrison killed her to prevent the affair from becoming public knowledge. With the help of techno-geek pal Miles (Giovanni Ribisi), Roweena goes undercover as a temp at the agency in the hopes of tapping into Harrison’s computer in order to find proof of his relationship with Grace. Although she becomes privy to all sorts of salacious gossip about other interoffice affairs and witnesses the kind of two-fisted firing that no doubt happens all the time in high-powered ad agencies, she is unable to come up with much evidence. However, she does catch the eye of the boss man and they begin a flirtation that is apparently so all-consuming that Harrison doesn’t seem to find it strange that his temp lives in a building with a rent that is presumably way out of her price range.

Although “Perfect Stranger” would like to be seen as a high-tech erotic thriller about the thrills and dangers of assuming another persona (a task made infinitely easier thanks to the anonymity of the Internet), it comes across more along the lines of one of those late-night Skinemax films that second-tier starlets like Shannon Tweed and Tanya Roberts made a living off on in the early 1990's. The difference, of course, is that if Shannon Tweed had been offered Todd Komarnicki’s screenplay, even she would have turned it down as being nothing more than preposterous drivel. The script desperately wants to pull the rug out from under us all the time but is too lazy to make any real effort at it–this is one of those films in which every important event is staged in front of an open window so the right person can witness it at exactly the right moment and seemingly important plot details (such as the ones involving Roweena’s rotter boyfriend, her institutionalized mother and a gradually expanding flashback from her past) are hastily introduced and then just as hastily abandoned.

Perhaps Komarnicki and director James Foley (the once-promising auteur of “At Close Range” and “Glengarry Glen Ross”) figured that by throwing all of these elements in at random, viewers would be too confused to notice that the much-vaunted erotic content of the film turns out to be practically non-existent. Anyone hoping for some heavy-breathing smut will no doubt be less than pleased to discover that there is practically no nudity, practically no sex and that the film’s idea of kinkiness is the sight of Halle Berry sitting in front of her computer typing about her panties. Even the most easily aroused pervs in the audience will probably agree with me that the Victoria’s Secret advertisement wedged into the narrative offers more genuine heat than anything else in the film, not to mention more cohesive plotting.

Perhaps Komarnicki and Foley (who also once did the great “After Dark, My Sweet” and the not-that-bad “Fear” ) figured that if they didn’t actually include the sexy material the ads promise, viewers would be too distracted to notice that the ending that they have concocted to wrap everything up is one of the dumbest things ever filmed. Hell, I was actually warned by colleagues who saw the film before I did that the ending was unbelievably ridiculous but even with that warning, I was still shocked by just how dopey it actually was. I was even more shocked to go to IMDB and learn that there were apparently three different endings shot–if this was the best of the bunch, I shudder to think what the lesser conclusions entailed, especially since one could have spliced the final reel of “Signs” onto this film and the end result wouldn’t have seemed much dafter than what actually transpires. I can almost guarantee that anyone who goes to see “Perfect Stranger” will be able to cook up a more plausible and satisfying conclusion in the time it takes them to walk from the theater to the parking lot–hell, I came up with one that would have made sense and upped the erotica quotient (as Chekov didn’t quite say, you don’t introduce a sexy lesbian secretary in the first act and then not have her go off in the third) and I hadn’t even gotten off the escalator.

Perhaps Komarnicki and Foley (who also directed an number of Madonna’s early videos, including “True Blue,” a title which actually gets referenced here almost as a desperate reminder that he once had a career of note) realized all these problems and figured that they didn’t need to bother to fix them once they saw the early rushes of Halle Berry’s work and discovered that they were capturing one of the worst performances by any Oscar-winning actress in recent memory. Sure, the sight of an award-winning star slumming in a presumably high-paying craptacular is an increasingly common sight these days but at least when Hilary Swank appeared in the monumentally stupid likes of “The Reaping,” she went through her paces with the kind of grim determination that suggest that she was at least trying to turn in a professional performance amidst all the claptrap. Berry, on the other hand, goes for the kind of cheap, hambone theatrics that would get her laughed out of most community theater groups. Watch the scene near the beginning in which she is supposed to come across as both drunk and filled with righteous anger at the loss of her big story–the emotions ring so completely false and hollow that the lack of effort feels almost contemptuous. You never believe her for a second as a brilliant investigative journalist, a seductress who can manipulate anyone in order to get what she wants or as someone with the brainpower to tell the difference twixt shinola and certain other substances. She is so crummy, in fact, that you almost find yourself overlooking Giovanni Ribisi’s equally over-the-top performance as a techno-geek who, based on the available evidence seen here, is sorely in need of several medications.

As for Bruce Willis, he must have realized early on that this was not going to be one of the key films on his eventual AFI Lifetime Achievement highlight reel and therefore decided to approach his performance in the most sensible manner possible–he appears on-screen as little as possible and when he does make an appearance, he is so laid-back that he barely registers on the screen as a potential lover, a potential threat or as a sentient human being. In most of his scenes, in fact, he has that inescapable air of an actor who is trying to get through his lines as quickly as possible so that he can return to his trailer and do something more constructive with his time and energy. I like to think that he spent that time watching a DVD of “The Color of Night” while wistfully recalling the good old days.

Perhaps I haven’t quite stressed to you, dear reader, just how completely dreadful “Perfect Stranger” (even the title is DOA.) truly is. Let me put it this way. You know how sometimes you’ll be watching a lousy movie and you will see something in it from another movie–maybe a clip or a poster–and find yourself wishing that you were watching that movie instead of the one you were currently stuck in. That feeling occurred to me at one point here at the sight of a poster and the hell of it is that it was a poster for, of all things, “Firewall.” If that doesn’t suggest how bad “Perfect Stranger” really is, you may actually deserve to see it after all.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15616&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/13/07 01:42:18
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User Comments

3/24/18 morris campbell not bad but nothing special 4 stars
6/02/09 mr.mike It was no bad (on cable), didn't see the ending coming- and Berry was hot. 4 stars
4/23/08 carmen ending stinks!!! 3 stars
1/10/08 Matt Keeps you guessing and produces an unexpected twist. Actually, it's pretty damn good. 4 stars
11/13/07 AgetnOrange Daniella van Graas was the only bright spot - shows promise 4 stars
9/08/07 S +1 on bad ending... acting could b better 2 4 stars
7/19/07 Wendy Donnellson Jeez -- Halle Berry sure thinks her doodoo doesn't stink in this one! 1 stars
7/17/07 Daphne Sterling Totally muddled about everything except the fact that it is lurid garbage! 1 stars
7/02/07 William Goss A pathetic 'thriller' whose tedium only grows until its moronic climax. 1 stars
5/24/07 ES It was alright, Giovanni Ribisi is great in any role 4 stars
5/08/07 David Pollastrini The TV show was better... oh wait... 3 stars
4/21/07 Gracie Great mystery film!!! Great twist at the end of the movie! Best Halle & Bruce film yet! 5 stars
4/19/07 Lauren I liked it, but a little strange 3 stars
4/18/07 Megs Sucked more than 99.9% of things could ever aspire to sucking. 1 stars
4/16/07 Peg I was ok with the ending....until it showed a man looking through a window. Very confusing 3 stars
4/15/07 Vince Horrible, ending.. Very contrived film. 1 stars
4/13/07 a random guy very good 4 stars
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  13-Apr-2007 (R)
  DVD: 21-Aug-2007

  13-Apr-2007 (15)

  19-Apr-2007 (M)

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