Review: Perfect Stranger

It pains me to report there's no Balki Bartokomous to be found here, though I wish the comic stylings of Bronson Pinchot were allowed access to this stinker. I'll take anything to keep the focus off Halle Berry and her Razzie-worthy performance in this wince-inducing clunker.

A hotshot reporter for the local newspaper, Rowena (Halle Berry) has made it her life's work to bust white-collar crime. When a childhood friend ends up dead, Rowena decides to peek into the case on her own, targeting an ad executive (Bruce Willis, who apparently didn't find "Color of Night" sufficiently humiliating) for the crime. Reeling him in with dirty talk over the Internet and some undercover workplace flirting, Rowena, with the help of her tech-nerd friend Miles (Giovanni Ribisi), senses the end is near for her target, but he has other plans.

If Halle Berry truly is a movie star, why is it anytime she's left alone to carry her own movie it usually ends up on the side of the cinematic interstate in flames? "Perfect Stranger" (IMDb listing reminded me so much of the Berry's 1996 vehicle "Rich Man's Wife" that I almost fell into septic shock. Not that the two share the same story, but more that both pictures rely on Berry to carry the engine of thrills for the whole picture, and she's simply not capable.

"Stranger" is such a crudely drawn suspense piece, it's no wonder director James Foley pretty much gives up on it halfway through. If the cancer was something easy to detect, like misplaced logic or the absence of mood, that would be one thing, but "Stranger" is just screwy all over. From the half-realized themes and symbolism of observation to the Lombard Street architecture of the twist-happy finale, "Stranger" isn't so much a mess as it's a bad mistake that never learns to correct its loopy behavior.

The screenplay by Todd Komarnicki contains enough whoppers and hack banter for 20 movies, but it's really the sourness of the performances that drags "Stranger" into the dumpster. Berry is way out of her element with this material, imaging Rowena as a world-class dolt with a hair-trigger anger button. Berry couldn't portray frustration and rage to save her life, and, regrettably, that's all the character has to offer her.

Matching her in awfulness is Ribisi, who seems to be entertaining himself with his elongated line readings and bad sushi facial gestures. I hate to break it to this one-note actor, but he gives away his hand with every stupefying bit of indication he tries to pack into Foley's frame. I'm not one to normally concern myself with solving a thriller the minute it starts, but it's hard to not clue in right away on the shenanigans here, especially when the performances are wielded this wildly.

While the picture looks to enjoy its slide around inanity, "Stranger" soon has to justify itself, and reveals a horde of bad ideas to tend to in the final half hour. If the film wasn't already pushing its luck asking the audience to believe Berry as a hardened print journalist, imagine the horror trying to come up with a suitable conclusion that will throw the viewer off guard. The only true reaction to the film's ending is pure bewilderment and resentment, and much like the rest of the movie, it adds up to nothing but a migraine.

I'll end this review with a plea: if anyone, anywhere understands a single frame of this turkey, please feel free to e-mail me. I could use the enlightenment.

Filmfodder Grade: D-