- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2007

The new urban thriller “Perfect Stranger” aspires to meld the intelligent forensics of “CSI” with the sex appeal of “Grey’s Anatomy.” Lacking the smart writing and careful character development of either serial, though, it more closely approximates “The Halle Berry Show,” with the actress’s ample “gifts” taking center stage.

The Oscar-winner stars as intrepid journalist Rowena Price. After a female acquaintance shows up dead, “Ro” goes undercover to investigate her top suspect: advertising executive Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis). (And no, she’s not working with the police.)

“Hill,” as those in his inner circle call him, is as powerful in business as he is weakened by women — including the deceased, with whom he had an extramarital affair. In order to get to him, Ro takes on a temp job in his office and an additional alter-ego online.

Against the film’s metropolitan backdrop — punctuated by the sharp, angular lines of doors, walls and buildings — the protagonist’s oft-accentuated curves create a nice counterpoint. But when the plot and characters take a turn toward the melodramatic (not very far in), the role of her body begins to eclipse that of the actors themselves; it becomes the movie’s MVP, the glue that keeps eyes stuck to the screen.

Audiences watch Miss Berry spill out of slinky dresses, use her assets to gain entry to off-limits locales and manipulate people, and stand topless with her back to the camera while pondering what to wear — a gratuitous shot that leaves little to the imagination.

Around her admittedly breathtaking form, the script becomes increasingly convoluted with esoteric flashbacks, “erotic” (meaning either gross or boring, depending on the viewer) chat-room exchanges, dual personalities, and tenuous central relationships — like the one with her researcher friend Miles (Giovanni Ribisi) — that just don’t ring true.

Mr. Willis gets lost in the muddled swirl due to a cardboard character that’s about as far a cry from the charming David Addison (“Moonlighting”) days as can be.

Before its conclusion, the plot twists like a corkscrew before finally committing to a very unexpected direction, but by then, this “Stranger” might’ve already overstayed its welcome.

**

TITLE: “Perfect Stranger”

RATING: R (for sexual content and nudity, violent images and language)

CREDITS: Directed by James Foley. Written by Todd Komarnicki.

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

WEB SITE: www.sony.com/ perfectstranger

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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