“Perfect Stranger” is an offensively slick and soulless piece of Hollywood crap. A movie filled with scuzzy people doing scuzzy things, there is not one person to care about— least of all Halle Berry, whose plunging necklines and tight skirts project a sexy working woman’s confidence, while her cardboard character exposes her as nothing but a walking billboard.
The title, as generic as it needs to be, refers to the anonymous status of an online chatter. The hook that’s supposed to draw you in to this film is that reporter Rowena “Ro” Price (Berry) is baiting big-time ad exec Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis) for a tell-all expose she’s writing about his infidelities and a possible murder. Powerful men exchanging dirty messages by computer are grabbing headlines like crazy these days, so why not make a quick buck exploiting our natural voyeuristic tendencies?
It could have been mildly interesting had there been any attempt made at psychological depth whatsoever. Instead, “Perfect Stranger” is content to be an extended commercial, selling us shoes, beer, and women’s lingerie with some not-so-subtle product placement. But wait—there’s more! For the movie to qualify as a completely contrived piece of crap, the script would have to also include some high-tech forensics graphics a la “CSI” and a nonsensical twist ending.
It turns out that online chatting is the least dirty of the things going on in this film. There is also some child molestation, a U.S. Senate sex scandal, corporate backstabbing, marital infidelity, and a porn-addicted stalker who builds his own Halle Berry in effigy. It is all presented with the utmost of sincerity and the frankness of somebody who doesn’t care how morally repugnant it all is, as long as it serves the dumb-as-nails plot.
After higher-ups in the government squash her Senate scandal story, Ro pursues a dubious lead given to her by a childhood friend. She acknowledges herself that there’s no story there. When the lead character knows this is a rickety premise to hang a film on, it is a bad sign. She’s on the case anyway, and getting a job undercover at the most prestigious ad agency in town is easier than the click of a mouse—as long as your socially inept tech-head sidekick Miles (Giovanni Ribisi) is handy. Suddenly, Rowena is best chums with the office gossip-hound, who conveniently spills the beans to the temp about things that would get any normal person fired.
Ro’s self-righteous and selfish attitude throughout the picture is taxing, and she treats Miles like dirt. The movie tries to justify her behavior by making him out to be a creep, even if Ro doesn’t actually know that yet. Speaking of creeps, Willis’ smirktastic corporate bad guy preaches loyalty, but he’s constantly cheating on his wife. If Berry’s role is poorly written, then Willis’ is truly thankless. Worse than a one-note role, his character goes nowhere, and then is written off with no final scene—just a lame courtroom montage that mops up some loose ends while racing towards the hugely disappointing ending.
Usually when there are unexplained dream sequences or flashbacks throughout a film, you can bet that they will tie in to the conclusion somehow. If it is done right, these moments blend in with the current story, adding layers to what we already know. If they come out of nowhere like they do here, it can be the first sign that the story is one big cheap trick, designed to lure us in with the sole intention of pulling a rabbit out of the hat. In “Perfect Stranger,” that strategy further blows the credibility of a movie that never had any to begin with.