Thought Halle Berry hit rock bottom with Catwoman? The Oscar winner's sad descent continues with this silly, sleazy but surprisingly chaste throwback to such 1990s Hitchcockian psychosexual thrillers as Basic Instinct and Body of Evidence..
Don't talk to New York tabloid reporter Rowena Price (Halle Berry) about ethics. Anything goes when it comes to making the front page, especially if it means exposing an influential politician's hypocritical stand on gay marriage. Even when that story is spiked, and she quits her job in protest, Price doesn't think twice about going undercover to track down the killer of a childhood friend. See, Price's deceased gal pal was ready to reveal all about her bedroom antics with the very married and the very unfaithful advertising hotshot Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis). Even a lowly editorial assistant would point a finger at Hill as the likely culprit--but forget going to the cops. Price and fellow muckraker Miles Hailey (Giovanni Ribisi) set out to get the dirt on Hill by any means necessary. Pretending to be a temp in Hill's office, our intrepid reporter and her partially unbuttoned blouse catch her horny new boss's eye quicker than you can say, "Take a letter, Miss Price." If seducing Hill means bringing him to justice, Price is prepared to lie back and think of the Pulitzer Prize she's so desperate to win. Oh, doesn't this have all the makings of a guilty pleasure? If only.
Perfect Stranger harks back to the bad old pre-Oscar days of Swordfish, when Berry reportedly received a $500,000 bonus to doff her top. Director James Foley obviously didn't have that kind of money to pay Berry to show more skin than she does in Perfect Stranger. But she does spend much of her time sashaying through Perfect Stranger like a Pussycat Doll posing as an office temp. Then again, the 40-year-old Berry could go undercover as Ugly Betty and still get her boss all hot under his collar. Unfortunately, Berry seems more concerned with turning heads than making us feel connected to Price or concerned for her safety. For a woman who purportedly is dedicated to seeking out the truth, Price is a nasty piece of work whose ambition and methods will only confirm the public's suspicions that journalists have no scruples. No wonder the equally slimy Hill drools all over her. But save for one late-night rendezvous that's admittedly fraught with sexual tension, Bruce Willis just doesn't seem all that into Berry. Check that man's pulse, stat! Then again, Willis barely has any fun with the scenery-chewing role of the power-hungry, white-collar womanizer that's usually reserved for Michael Douglas. The same can't be said for Giovanni Ribisi, who's downright manic but thoroughly entertaining as the computer geek with a stalker-like crush on Price. Shifting easily from funny to creepy in the blink of an eye, Ribisi is the only reason Perfect Stranger is marginally better than the usual commingling of blood and bodily fluids found on Cinemax after midnight.
Most of the enjoyment derived from sitting through such a sordid affair as Perfect Stranger comes from playing armchair detective. But director James Foleyworking from a grubby and foulmouthed script by Todd Komarnicki and Jon Bokenkamp that pilfers the best and the worst of Basic Instinct et al.shamelessly and regretfully deprives us of that pleasure. He simply refuses to provide any clues as to the killer's identity. While all roads lead to Hill, the evidence is circumstantial at best. So when Perfect Stranger slowly and uneventfully reaches its ludicrously orchestrated and highly implausible climatic confrontation with the killer, you feel cheated that you had absolutely no chance of being able to distinguish the guilty party from the many red herrings. If that's not enough, Perfect Stranger is all talk and no action. There's the promise of plenty of hot and sweaty sex, including some girl-on-girl action with Hill's overprotective personal assistant that would have allowed Price to snuggle up closer to her quarry. But, when all is said and done, Perfect Stranger turns out to be perfectly prudish when it comes to doing the dirty deed. And there's less flesh than an episode of your favorite daytime soap opera. Unfortunately, that leaves you stuck listening to a lot of filthy chatter that is never as crudely inventive or unintentionally hilarious as the tête-à-têtes between Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. If only Stone's Catherine Tramell had taken an ice pick to this Perfect Stranger.
Hollywood.com rated this film 1/2 star.