Perfect Stranger

Perfect Stranger

***

Reviewed by: Martin Gray

Girl reporter Ro Price's (Halle Berry) latest case goes tits up when the hypocritical Senator she's about to expose pulls a few financial strings with her employers. Turns out that this sort of thing keeps happening to her, and she's just not getting the back-up from the boss, so she quits her job as the New York Courier's ace hack. Grrr, she's mad as hell and she's not going to take it any more.

Handily, a distraction from her troubles appears in the form of old pal Grace (Nicki Aycox). It's apparent she and Ro - who, God knows why, uses a male byline for her stories - have a complicated relationship. This gets easier when Grace is murdered - she ceases to be an irritation and becomes the source of a story to get Ro (that's Rowena, not Berry's X-Men character Ororo) on top of the game again. For the late bunny boiler had been stalking a guy she'd met online, ad agency mogul Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis) - could he have killed her? Ro and ace communications assistant Miles (Giovanni Ribisi) are determined to find out.

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Ro - under the alias of temp Catherine Pogue - gets a job at the agency and sets a honey trap for married online flirt Hill. Cue twists and turns aplenty as suspects for the murder of Grace crawl out from under every piece of wood in the building and Ro wonders just who she can trust.

If you like cat and mouse thrillers and can put up with Halle Berry scowling throughout the whole film - she really is a cold screen presence - this is worth sticking with. It's not high art, but it's highly entertaining, challenging the viewer to work out what's going on, with the occasional flashback and piece of dialogue to help us along. It's a good thing the story is grabby, as a leading lady we can't empathise with - there's only one engaging character in the whole film, ad agency gossip Gina (Clea Lewis) - means there has to be some reason to stick with the thing.

If we characterise Berry's acting style here as Ingmar Bergman-Swedish, it's only fair to give Willis a tag. I think 'panto' about covers it. "You are a corporate spy, gaaaarrrrrgh." "You betrayed me, reeurgghhh." "You sunk my battleship, waaargh!" I'm not kidding, the man is a liability. He tries for twinkly charm and manages smug, he attempts anger, and channels Godzilla. There's not an ounce of chemistry between Willis and Berry, so it seems Hill is playing Ro as much as she's playing him.

Miles does have charm, but he's revealed as a tad peculiar early on, so fails as the viewer's entry point into the world of the film. He does show off his excellent chest rather a lot, and writhes nicely while using the phone. And Sixties legend Patti D'Arbanville convinces as Berry's ad agency supervisor, Esmerelda, whom we're likely supposed to consider a bitch. Actually, she seems pretty reasonable in the face of obvious liar Catherine/Ro.

Foley does a pretty decent job on the direction, providing several shots that, while memorable, don't bring the film to a halt with self-consciousness. There's as much tension as you're likely to get in a 15 film, and the ending, while straining cinematic elastic, isn't totally far-fetched, and could even explain Berry's performance.

It doesn't explain her hat. Again and again Berry dons a vile Donny Osmond cap that can only be described as a Twat Hat. It makes her look even more like Michael Jackson than the flattened hair and peculiar nose already do. Perhaps she wanted to wear something as silly as Willis' wig. As if anything could be that laughable.

The Twat Hat was almost as distracting as the constant namechecking of interrnational conglomerates whom I won't mention here. Mind, Ro and Miles subscribe to IOL chatrooms, the only made-up brand in the whole film. Could it be that computer giant AOL certainly weren't about to allow their name to be associated with insecure software programs and chatrooms?

Ah yes, chatrooms in thrillers. Not a good thing, it's just not exciting to watch folk type. The film knows this, hence Ro speaks everything she types out loud, while a program using a Harrison Hill (Harry Hill... surely not?) voice sample allows us to hear the voice of Willis as messages arrive. Which is less dull, but annoyingly contrived.

Oh, and Halle Berry can't cuss. Really. She sounds like my pet hamster trying to be all gwown-up and rude.

Nevertheless, this is diverting fun, and the infodump at the end (see also The Usual Suspects, The Number 23, Skeleton Key...) is brief and actually rather fascinating.

Reviewed on: 18 Apr 2007
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A journalist goes undercover in search of a murderer.
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Chris **1/2

Director: James Foley

Writer: Todd Komarnicki, based on a story by Jon Bokenkamp

Starring: Halle Berry, Bruce Willis, Giovanni Ribisi, Richard Portnow, Gary Dourdan, Patti D'Arbanville, Clea Lewis

Year: 2007

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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If you like this, try:

The Number 23
The Skeleton Key