“Perfect Stranger” is one of those movies in which nothing and no one turns out the way they originally seemed. And, maddeningly, that’s true of the movie itself, as well.
It begins life as a sleek, sexy thriller — an eminently watchable guilty pleasure under the direction of James Foley (“Glengarry Glen Ross”) with its fabulous-looking people and places — but eventually it collapses in a heap of plot twists that are annoyingly implausible.
Rather than leaving you scratching your head wondering, “Huh, how’d they do that?” you’re more likely to tear your hair out screaming, “No way!”
Halle Berry makes it all somewhat tolerable as Rowena Price, an intrepid investigative reporter for a very obviously New York Post-style tabloid. She suspects that a childhood friend (Nicki Aycox) was murdered by Harrison Hill, the famously philandering head of a high-powered ad agency (Bruce Willis, tanned and trim). The friend had engaged in hot-and-heavy flirting with Harrison on the Internet before tracking him down in New York to continue the fling in person. In no time, her body is found, drowned and decomposing.
Rowena assumes various identities, both online and in his office as a temp, to uncover the truth. She’s already got loads of practice doing this; before being fired from said tabloid for a drunken outburst, she wrote under a man’s byline, and in a move of questionable journalistic ethics, sneaked into a senator’s office under false pretenses to expose a Mark Foleyesque intern scandal.
But the truth is hard to come by in the script from Todd Komarnicki, based on a story by Jon Bokenkamp, since everyone keeps gratuitously double-crossing each other.
Giovanni Ribisi gets some laughs as Miles, the smitten tech geek who serves as Berry’s guy Friday and seems to have infinite abilities to access anything, anytime. (This is one of the many suspension-of-disbelief elements of the movie. So is the idea that Willis’ character has all day to sit around chatting with strangers online, asking them what color panties they’re wearing and describing in detail what he’d like to do to them. LOL!!!)
Berry’s character is so volatile, though — and is so many characters wrapped up into one — she does get a chance to show some range. She and Willis do have some chemistry together but, ultimately, his Harrison Hill devolves from slick power broker into sniveling bad guy.
The fact that he runs an advertising agency also allows for some obnoxious product placement; this movie was brought to you by Victoria’s Secret, Heineken and Reebok.