With her Oscar for "Monster's Ball" fading fast in the rearview mirror, Halle Berry continues her string of earnest but mostly sub-par performances in mostly bad films, from "Die Another Day" to "Gothika" to "Catwoman." In "Perfect Stranger," she sure knows how to wear a killer dress, spout the "F"-word and flash the cleavage, but her acting is all over the map in a performance that goes from perplexing to just plain embarrassing.
Not that Katharine Hepburn in her prime could have rescued this script. In yet another movie that knows less about investigative journalism than a teenage blogger who has never heard of "All the President's Men," Berry plays Rowena, a crusading scribe-sleuth.
Giovanni Ribisi is Miles, Rowena's computer whiz of a research assistant - a manic creep who is obsessed with Rowena. Ribisi's performance is so twitchy, you want to sit him down and pour a thermos of decaf down his throat.
When Rowena's childhood friend Grace turns up dead in a most gruesome fashion, Ro and Miles set out to prove the killer is Grace's former lover Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), the chief of one of the leading and most glamorous advertising agencies in the world. Hill's wife (Paula Miranda) is exotic and gorgeous, and her family owns the agency, but he continually jeopardizes his marriage and his professional standing by hooking up with a series of gorgeous young things.
I know advertising is a competitive game, and there can be fierce rivalries between major agencies - but Willis turns Hill into the Manhattan high-rise equivalent of Jack Nicholson in "The Departed." With his thinning hair slicked back, his frame draped in perfectly tailored suits and his beautiful and protective Amazonian assistant always just half a step behind him, Hill moves through the agency like a wolf on the prowl, leering at the hot women in the office, drumming up business, standing toe to toe with the head of a rival agency, talking to him like a mob boss. When Hill learns the identity of an in-house spy (again, shades of "The Departed"), he gives the guy a vicious beating in front of the entire office and then singles out a trembling underling, telling him, "Congratulations; you just got a promotion."
While Miles works from his spooky little rat's nest apartment, hacking into computer systems and ferreting about for evidence to pin the crime on Hill, Ro takes the more direct approach. Using a fake name - Veronica - she gets a job as a temp at Hill's agency. And even though it's a big company, it takes Hill about six seconds to notice Ro.
The chase is on.
"Perfect Stranger" is directed by James Foley, whose credits include "At Close Range," one of the best crime movies of the past quarter-century. Foley has a keen eye for the upscale lounges and restaurants of New York, where Hill entertains clients and makes his moves on Rowena. The flashback scenes have an effectively eerie, cool-blue tone. Throughout, this film has a classy look, but it's just a coat of gloss that fails to cover the utterly junky story.