Thank god for the law of diminished expectations. After 'Perfect Stranger' received scathing reviews during its blink-or-you-missed-it theatrical run this past spring, I went into this review fully expecting this film to be a disaster of epic proportions. And to be sure, this is not a good movie -- in fact, it's rather crappy. But to my great surprise, I still found 'Perfect Stranger' bizarrely enjoyable in a chintzy, Sunday-afternoon rental kind of way.
Halle Berry stars as Rowena Price, an investigative reporter whose friend's affair with married ad exec Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis) ends in murder. Suspecting Hill of the crime, Rowena goes undercover with the help of her cyber-geek accomplice Miles Haley (Giovanni Ribisi), posing as two highly alluring women: Katherine, a sexy temp who works within Hill's agency, and Veronica, a seductive temptress he chats up online. Engaging in a dangerous game of virtual cat-and-mouse, ultimately both Rowena and Hill come to realize things may not be what they seem -- and that the real killer may not be who anyone suspected.
Okay, so 'Perfect Stranger' isn't just bad, it's wholly unbelievable. I found myself laughing out loud at the number of inconsistencies and just plain implausible scenarios littered throughout the film. Making matters worse, Willis is woefully off the mark, playing the high-powered Hill as a borderline loon. Smug and sneering, he has no hesitation in firing his employees by flipping them over tables and nearly beating them to a pulp. If he's not the movie's killer, he's still such a psycho he deserves the electric chair anyway.
The flick's technology "hook" is equally absurd, and about a decade out of date. 'Perfect Stranger' would like us to marvel at how Rowena uses such newfangled gadgets as email, teleconferencing and spy-cams to catch her killer, but even if we roll with the flow, the only suspense director James Foley ('At Close Range,' 'Glengarry Glen Ross,' 'The Chamber') can muster up is Willis almost catching Berry scanning the internet for clues, and Ribisi being busted for disguising his own voice to sound like Willis. Even a second-rate Michael Crichton thriller knows how to exploit an old concept in a new way, but 'Perfect Stranger' just isn't innovative in its thrills.
Yet 'Perfect Stranger' still ends up being fun, simply because it is so lousy. Berry and Willis have such a lack of chemistry that there's a strangely perverse thrill in watching two fine actors struggle to make the most cringe-inducing dialogue sound sexy. Plus, the movie has an oddly entertaining vulgar streak. Granted, this film comes from the director of the famously profane 'Glengarry Glen Ross,' but given the minimal amount of onscreen violence or nudity, there's really no reason 'Perfect Stranger' would have been Rated R if it weren't for the liberal and wholly unnecessary uses of the F-word in just about every scene.
Alas, while it has its moments of satisfying camp excess, 'Perfect Stranger' is not the 'Showgirls' of adult thrillers. In the end, the film is too pedestrian and bland in execution to be a true camp classic. The climax in particular is both limp and unfulfilling.
Still, for those with an appreciation for bad cinema, I'll go out on a limb and recommend this one as a rental, if only because it packs enough unintentional laughs to be entertaining. So, if you're in an undemanding mood -- and you're willing to endure the sad sight of watching a once-glorious Oscar-winner in what could be the nadir of her career -- fire up some popcorn and make a date with 'Perfect Stranger.'
Sony brings 'Perfect Stranger' to Blu-ray in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video, and the transfer is excellent. The movie is as glossy as it is empty headed, and even if the subject matter doesn't really lend itself to truly classic high-def demo material, 'Perfect Stranger' looks fabulous on Blu-ray nonetheless.
As we learn in this disc's supplements, the filmmakers went for a monochromatic look (lots of shiny, silver walls, etc.) with bright, striking splashes of color, and it sure looks spiffy here. The source is immaculate, with excellent blacks and pitch-perfect contrast. The image always looks razor-sharp and defined, with excellent depth and dimensionality. The aforementioned colors are terrific -- bold, vivid, clean and consistent. Fleshtones, too are perfect. I also found no issues with any sort of compression artifacts or noticeable noise.
So what prevents 'Perfect Stranger' from knocking it out of the park with a five-star video rating? In short, even though the image is flawless on its own terms, there's nothing extra-special to this presentation to give it the true wow factor of the very best high-def material. But that's hardly a fault -- 'Perfect Stranger' is definitely up there with the top tier of recent releases on either high-def format.
'Perfect Stranger's audio is also a winner. Sony provides an uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track (48kHz/16-bit/6.9mpbs) that is up to their usual high standards. The movie may not have whiz-bang sound design on par with a big action flick, but for a thriller it definitely delivers the goods.
Across the board, 'Perfect Stranger' sounds well-produced as any A-list studio effort. Dynamic range is sharp, with great low bass all the way up to the crystal-clear highs. Granted, surround use is never overpowering -- it's all about atmosphere, but then this is a thriller, after all. There is some minor but consistent use of subtle discrete sounds to give some nice sustained ambiance, and the jittery, vaguely electro-score by Antonio Pinto is nicely deployed around the entire soundfield. 'Perfect Stranger' never clobbers you over the head with much in the way of sonic bombast, but given the film's genre and intent, it works just fine.
Sony has provided just a single supplement for 'Perfect Stranger,' so don't expect much in the way of extras.
The 12-minute "Virtual Lives" is another one of those glossy, breezy making-ofs that basically functions as an extended commercial. Halle Berry, Bruce Willis, Giovanni Ribisi and director James Foley, as well as other crew, wax philosophical about 'Perfect Stranger' as if it were some deep, significant character study. There's lots of "character analysis," plot recap and discussion of the film's visual style, but seeing how poorly received the movie came to be, it all plays like unintentional camp. (On the bright side, this featurette looks great, with terrific-quality 1080p/MPEG-2 video.)
'Perfect Stranger' is the type of thriller that's critically indefensible -- its plotting is clunky, its mystery is obvious, and its characters are cliched. Yet, in a cheesy direct-to-video guilty pleasure kind of way, I have to admit that I found it enjoyable.
From a technical perspective, the Blu-ray release is undeniably strong -- perhaps stronger than the flick deserves. The transfer is excellent, and the soundtrack is solid as well. Sure, there are no real extras aside from a lame featurette, but do you really want to know much more about the making of a box office bomb like this one?