Perfect Stranger

2007, Movie, R, 109 mins


James Foley's tawdry thriller about digital identities, chat-room dirty talk and old-fashioned murder is a cyberspace throwback to movies like JAGGED EDGE, SUSPICION and GUILTY AS SIN, erotic thrillers in which strong-minded career women find themselves caught in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with potential killers. The best of them depend on a climactic twist, and Foley's film is no exception: In fact, to talk about what his film is really about means giving away the ending and spoiling the only reason to see it. Suffice to say you'll either love it or hate it, and you'll have no way of knowing until the film is just about over.

Intrepid investigative reporter Rowena Price (Halle Berry) saw six months of hard work go down the drain when "The New York Courier" killed her expose of a homophobic U.S. senator's secret gay life. But she gets a second shot at the sleazy secrets of the rich and famous when she's contacted by a troubled childhood friend, Grace (Nicki Aycox), who comes bearing a stack of incriminating e-mails and a torrid tale she's dying to tell. Grace has been having an affair with the very powerful and very married Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), head of New York City's No. 1 ad agency. Grace and Harrison met in an Internet chat room under assumed identities and, after a steamy online exchange, began sleeping together. Now Hill is giving Grace the brush-off, and Grace wants revenge. Rowena, who prides herself on her journalistic integrity even though she writes under an assumed name, has no intention of acting on any of it — until Grace's body is found a week later floating in the river. Slipping into uncover mode, Rowena enlists the help of her friend and researcher Miles (Giovanni Ribisi) — a computer whiz who's secretly obsessed with Rowena — to get her a job as a temp at Hill's agency and access to Hill's Internet account. What she uncovers is an office environment brimming with intrigue and potential murder suspects, particularly the notorious Harrison Hill.

Todd Komarnicki's screenplay relies heavily on red herrings and a host of suspects (there are more murderers swanning around Hill's sleek offices than there were aboard the Orient Express) to keep audiences distracted from what, in retrospect, is really pretty obvious. But once the big surprise is unwrapped, apparently extraneous backstory, unimportant characters and odd gaps in logic fit together into a tight little package. The downside is that you don't know the film isn't as silly as it seems until it's over. Foley has served up a number of dark, successful thrillers (his underrated AFTER DARK, MY SWEET remains among the best of the many Jim Thompson adaptations) so even when the plot spins its wheels while waiting to reveal itself, there's still plenty of atmosphere and a fairly decent performance from Berry (though Willis is finally looking too old to be a convincing love interest). leave a comment --Ken Fox

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