Review: 'Perfect Stranger' ludicrous 

An investigative journalist assumes two false identities to collect evidence on a suspected murderer and feels more real in either pose than when being herself, or something like that, in "Perfect Stranger," a dim thriller presented as an astute look at life’s masquerade. A promising beginning, a surprise ending and lots of ludicrousness in between make up this clunker.

Halle Berry plays Rowena, an ace Manhattan reporter who learns from her childhood friend Grace (Nicki Aycox) about some sleazy business pertaining to Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), the womanizing ad-world big wheel Grace was involved with. After Grace turns up dead, Rowena sets out to establish Hill as the killer. Assisted by tech-wiz associate Miles (Giovanni Ribisi), she becomes both a temp named Katherine and an online chat-room babe called Veronica. In each scenario, she flirts with Hill while spying on him.

At first, the film appears headed somewhere dramatically potent or entertainingly trashy. Working in semi-noir mode, director James Foley (whose credits include "Glengarry Glen Ross") intrigues you with his introduction of Rowena as an undercover journalist (chic wardrobe notwithstanding) exposing a senator in a hot story that her publisher kills for political reasons.

But once Todd Komarnicki’s screenplay (from a story by Jon Bokenkamp) kicks firmly in, the drama devolves into a sludge of inane twists, pop-psych drivel and product placement that probably gives Victoria’s Secret more screen time than its protagonist’s secret. In every arena, the movie flops.

As a sexual sizzler, it’s pallid. The cybertrysts consist of Berry and Willis typing on keyboards and reading their naughty words aloud. As a psychodrama, it concentrates so heavily on Rowena’s fake identities that it neglects the real Rowena — an element it feebly addresses with flashbacks of a childhoodtrauma and an injection of late-hour explaining. As a whodunit, it’s preposterous. The resolution may be surprising, but that’s because it comes out of the sky.

The actors work no magic. Berry, more movie star than actor here, provides little insight into what makes Rowena such a terrific impostor. Willis gives a lazy performance that prevents his character from emitting the sexual aura crucial to his dynamics with Rowena’s alter egos. Ribisi, whose Miles has an overbearing crush on Rowena, is the film’s most intense presence, but, given the overall ridiculousness, that’s not a good thing.

Perfect Stranger *½

Starring Halle Berry, Bruce Willis, Giovanni Ribisi

Written by Todd Komarnicki

Directed by James Foley

Rated R

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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