The jury’s still out on whether or not Halle Berry is a recipient of the Oscar curse.
Even though she’s remained a household name to this day, Berry never really lived up to her potential after winning the Academy Award for Best Actress for Monster’s Ball (2001).
Rather than using that momentum to further her career as a critical darling, Berry starred in a series of bonafide clunkers instead, including Die Another Day (2002), Gothika (2003), and Catwoman (2004).
That last film even netted Berry a Razzie for Worst Actress, which she famously accepted in person with her Oscar in tow.
While Perfect Stranger (2007) is a few years removed from this famous losing streak it carries that same stench of failure, boasting piss poor box office returns and an even more dismal critical reception (10% on Rotten Tomatoes).
And while I don’t think this psychological thriller is that bad, it’s still crushingly stupid and something that definitely won’t be brought up in any of Berry’s future sit-down interviews with Oprah.
In terms of plot, Berry stars as crusading journalist Rowena Price who decides to investigate wealthy businessman Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis) after her childhood friend (who was having an affair with Hill) turns up dead.
To find the real killer, Rowena goes undercover at Hill’s ad agency and even adopts an online persona to try and seduce him on two fronts.
It’s hard to talk about Perfect Stranger without veering off into the realm of spoilers, since the film’s biggest weakness is it over reliance a ludicrous plot twist that’s meant to prop up the entirety of the story.
Sticking to just the acting for just a minute, Berry’s performance as the movie’s lead is very hit and miss. She’s perfectly serviceable in scenes involving tense intrigue or flirty conversations over drinks. But whenever she’s called upon to deliver a line that’s above a dull roar, Berry can’t help but go over the top and chew up the scenery like she’s headlining a Lifetime Movie.
Thankfully, Giovanni Ribisi picks up the slack in the acting department, since he does a much better job of finding a happy medium between those two conflict tones in a supporting role as Rowena’s closest confidant and secret stalker.
Willis is also surprisingly decent at playing the sinister ad executive, although that’s probably because his dialogue is kept to a minimum.
On the directing side, James Foley does a good job of emphasizing the lurid subject matter, making sure to crowd the screen with bold colours in every scene involving explicit sex and violence.
And screenwriters Jon Bokenkamp and Todd Komarnicki should be given some credit for trying to tell a story about losing one’s identity in the digital age way before the explosion of social media.
But that’s about as far as I’ll go to praise the writing, since the film’s plot is one long Shaggy Dog story.
While each individual story development isn’t too outlandish, for this kind of trashy thriller anyway, it’s all built on a foundation of sand.
Without going into specific details, the revelation of the killer’s identity and their overarching motivation comes completely out of nowhere and resembles something the producers put together at the last minute to artificially throw savvy moviegoers off the scent.
In fact, according to IMDB, the filmmakers shot three different endings for this movie, each with a different character as the killer, which means the revelation was designed to be a gimmick rather than an organic conclusion.
Unlike a good movie twist, there’s no breadcrumb trail to follow up on after the fact that puts everything in the proper context. Instead, all the audience is left with is a wet fart of a climax that’s meant to shock but not make any sense.
It’s the kind of bad ending that taints the rest of the film, even the parts that are relatively enjoyable.
Suffice it to say, Perfect Stranger is not a modern answer to the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Hell, it’s not even on the same level as 2000s M. Night Shyamalan.
It’s basically Hitchcock for wine-moms, where well-crafted suspense and intrigue is replaced by hammy acting, cheap titillation, and soap opera style plot progression.
On that level, this thriller is worth watching just for the fun of picking apart its non-sensical plots threads.
Halle Berry completionists also might want to give this film a look, although their time is probably better spent watching B*A*P*S for the 20th time.
Corner store companion:
Kinder Surprise (because it’s an appealing shell containing a crappy surprise)
-Release date: April 13, 2007
-Box office gross: $23,984,949 (US), $73, 090, 611 (worldwide)
-Film critic Richard Roper ranked Perfect Stranger as his 10th worst film of 2007, right behind Rush Hour 3 and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.
-This movie was originally supposed to be set in New Orleans, but the script was re-written to take place in New York City after Hurricane Katrina hit during pre-production.
-Unexpected cameo: model Heidi Klum pops up briefly during a Victoria’s Secret party that is being thrown by Willis’ fictional ad agency.
-After helming Perfect Stranger, James Foley would go on to direct TV for the next decade, including episodes of Hannibal, Billions and House of Cards. He returned to the world of feature films with a vengeance in 2017-18 by directing the second and third entry in the cinematic Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy (Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed).