Director James Foley has one of the most varied careers in cinema. Certainly not the kind of career you could ever consider as “great” but he is definitely no stranger to crafting crime pictures. His 1986 film, “At Close Range” with Sean Penn and Christopher Walken, was a worthy, yet flawed, attempt. 1992’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” teamed Foley with screenwriter David Mamet (based on his play) and a killer cast (including Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Jack Lemmon and Alec Baldwin), making it his best effort to date.
He’s also had a string of real losers too. Will the cinema world ever be able to forgive him for films like the Madonna monstrosity “Who’s That Girl?” or the John Grisham nightmare that was “The Chamber”? Having seen a good majority of his filmography (which also includes “Fear,” “The Corruptor” and “Confidence”), I think it’s safe to say that Foley has finally hit his all time career low with “Perfect Stranger.”
Rowena (Halle Berry) is an investigative reporter specializing in breaking scandalous stories about powerful people. When her latest story about a senator having sex with much younger men (what makes that ‘important’ is that this senator is very homophobic in public) is botched due to his connections with the higher ups at the newspaper she works for, she walks away from the paper for good… but not really. When a childhood friend bumps into her on a subway and tells her about her sexual relations with Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), a married an important businessman in the advertising world, her interest is peaked a bit. Coincidentally this friend just so happens to die a few days later and all signs point to Harrison as the killer. So Berry, with the help of her computer-savvy assistant Miles (Giovanni Ribisi), goes undercover as a temp for Hill’s company in an attempt to uncover the truth about her friend’s mysterious murder (and write a story in the process).
Screenwriters Todd Komarnicki and Jon Bokenkamp provide a script with enough foreseeable twists and turns that, if it were an actual road, a blind person wouldn’t have any difficulty handling it. They have no problem pretending the audience’s motor skills and understanding capacity hasn’t cleared a two-year-old level. For example, around the 20-minute mark, Berry sits in her apartment and stares at the file her friend gave her about Harrison Hill. Instead of using a traditional device, like a montage to show her searching through page after page or something, the film cuts to a flashback of an event that literally happened minutes ago. Are we as an audience really not capable of remembering events that happened one sequence ago?
Even more annoying than a flashback sequence to one scene ago is the amount of product placement in this movie. It’s safe to assume that both the producers and the production company tried their best to get coin outside of their pockets to contribute to this disaster. Speaking of disaster, Halle Berry’s acting continues on the downward slope, as she proves film after film that the “Post-Oscar Win Curse” is indeed a real phenomenon. Ever since her glorious win for “Monster’s Ball,” she either unlearned how to read scripts or she never really had talent in the first place.
The film’s tagline goes something like, “How far would you go to keep a secret?” For this movie, hopefully to save a filmgoer or two, I’m going to go even further to NOT keep a secret. “Perfect Stranger” is nothing but a perfect waste of a Friday night. Or a Tuesday night. Or any night of the week for that matter. Go see “Grindhouse” instead because contributing anything to the betterment of Halle Berry’s career at this point should be punishable by death.