Recognizable stars can't save the blunt thriller Perfect Stranger – a disorganized movie filled with unnecessary dialogue and ridiculously predictable situations in a surprisingly weak script.
Halle Berry has the lead role as Katharine/Ro, a tenacious journalist at the New York Courier. Her information-gathering skills are complemented by several aliases and her research partner Miles, played by Giovanni Ribisi (Saving Private Ryan, Friends). Miles has endless energy and focus, but Ribisi tenses his face muscles in almost every dialogue scene. This is an annoying habit, particularly when his scatter shot dialogue doesn't have any real focus.
Ro's beginning investigative story of a Senator seems misplaced until you understand how she's drawn to men of power and has a desire to bring them down. She establishes, particularly to Miles, that no man rules her, but this message is contradicted. You get hints of a darker side (e.g. problems with her boyfriend) but the story just skims along, touching several different areas.
Without a steady theme and character development that could put some real emotion into the story, Berry can only draw upon her own personal appeal, as the audience must sift through the mundane situations and possibilities presented. Filmmakers definitely could've stressed the position of her boyfriend, played by Gary Dourdan (CSI, Alien Resurrection), or shown more of Ro's famous stories (e.g. a quick montage sequence) without spoiling anything. At least the audience would have a better idea of her character.
One important question audiences might ask themselves: How do the other characters know where to find this seemingly professional reporter, who has several aliases, in a large city? A childhood acquaintance named Grace, played by Nicki Aycox, finds Ro in an alley. Miles seems to find her at will. Even the New York Courier's editor, played by Richard Portnow (Good Morning Vietnam, The Sopranos), tracks her down in a café.
After a very odd jump in the story, Bruce Willis enters the picture as ad execute Harrison Hill, who is Ro's next journalistic target. Hill has a survivor attitude and believes deeply in loyalty (and self righteous justice). His strong convictions and survival-type attitudes open him to constant power struggles, which make him paranoid in almost every situation. "Kill or become irrelevant," he says. As her alias, Katherine, Ro quickly assesses Hill's professional and personal life thanks to Miles' research and a very gossipy co-worker named Gina, played by Clea Lewis (Ellen television series), who introduces even more possibilities and situations to the story.
The movie also introduces another character, Josie, as Hill's closest business associate. Josie only exists out of necessity you never really see her in action that much. Other characters talk her up to be a ruthless, know-it-all who deals with people threatening Hill's success/reputation. A power struggle sequence between her and the well-connected Ro (presented in previews, but not in the actual film) would've helped the film. She could've made a surprise appearance in the restaurant scene.
The execution of the film by director James Foley hurts it the most. For example, there is a sequence with loud, tense music while a character does simple research on a computer. The music seems to imply that this scene is important, but it doesn't hit the mark. Other examples: a picture on a Hurricane site looks completely fake, and at one point a character "sneaks" into an office with the shades open. These situations get progressively laughable and then worse as screenwriter Todd Komarnicki (writer/director of Resistance) and story writer Jon Bokenkamp (Taking Lives) layout an uninteresting path. Their scatter shot dialogue is stressful instead of intriguing, and the payoff(s) are definitely not worth viewing.
A stronger story also would have avoided endless explanations through dialogue and used more visuals. If the audience pays attention, then all presented elements are embarrassingly predictable. The filmmakers reportedly filmed three separate endings for the movie. It might be interesting to see the alternative endings or reedited versions, because this movie clearly loses its focus before the ending, which leaves the possibility that this story could go on.
Overall, the movie captures how tragic events can grip people and make them "lose sight of who [they] are." Flashbacks provide helpful explanation, although they would have been better if placed near the beginning of the film. Of course, this placement would have spoiled the surprise ending, which wasn't that great.
The film is a lot of smoke and mirrors with nothing substantial behind the curtain. It should have redeeming values or a feel good conclusion, but needs some substantial work. The only thing Perfect Stranger does well is to lose the audience's interest long before the decisive third act. Not recommended. Rated R for language, mature themes, sexual content, nudity and some disturbing violent images.