With people increasingly communicating via computers -- whether through email, instant messaging or assorted other tools that now substitute for real conversation -- today's filmmakers are confronted with the unenviable task of trying to finding ways to make these decidedly un-cinematic methods of communication look compelling on celluloid.
Alas, this is the conundrum that plagues Perfect Stranger, a "sexy" (according to the studio-supplied press notes) and thoroughly lame (according to me) new thriller directed by James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross, At Close Range) and starring Halle Berry (Gothika, Catwoman) and Bruce Willis (Hudson Hawk, Armageddon).
Berry plays Rowena Price (henceforth referred to as "Ro"), a star investigative reporter at a prominent New York newspaper who quits after the suits suppress one of her brilliant exposes. When a childhood friend turns up dead, Ro decides to dedicate her considerable investigative skills toward finding the killer, uncovering a trail that leads her to Madison Avenue and the office of prominent advertising executive Harrison Hill (Willis), a man with a nasty temper and a penchant for online sex chats.
Ro employs a dual-pronged strategy to get to the bottom of the mystery, joining Hill's firm as a temp and enlisting the aid of her computer wiz pal, Miles Haley (Giovanni Ribisi), to help dig up dirt online. Problem is, Miles wants to be more than friends with Ro, a fact that complicates things when she tries to use her feminine wiles to get closer to Hill. As an added plus, Ro's attempted seduction of Hill gives the movie a great excuse to dress up Berry in variety of sexy outfits otherwise ill-suited for journalistic work.
Even with his considerable pedigree, Foley can't elevate Perfect Stranger above anything more than a conventional thriller. Everybody is a suspect, nothing is what it seems, you can't trust anyone, et freaking cetera. The plot is filled with gaping holes, ridiculous twists and implausible decision-making. Littered throughout the story are confusing flashbacks to Ro's childhood, scenes that only make sense at the end, when Foley employs the tired Usual Suspects technique of cycling through key moments in a grand montage that ultimately reveals the true culprit.
Perfect Stranger is at its most interesting when Willis and Berry share the same frame, milking the sexual tension as much as they can. Unfortunately, their characters interact more online than they do on-screen, and there's nothing sexy about two people IM-ing each other. Unless, of course, you happen to be one of those people.