Dir: James Foley. 2007. US. 109mins
Perfect Stranger is perfect trash, crafted with all the costly polish and production values that Hollywood can muster. A throwback to lurid sex thrillers from the 1990s like Disclosure, Jade and Colour Of Night, it is the ultimate guilty pleasure, compulsively watchable, even when the plot veers out of control and into cloud-cuckoo-land.
Although critics will enjoy tearing it apart, Sony should have a mid-sized pre-summer adult hit with the film, driven by its two big star names Halle Berry and Bruce Willis.
That success may only last a couple of weeks in North America. Two more high-end adult thrillers - Fracture and Vacancy - open a week later, and Sony's own Spider-Man 3 takes out all the competition on May 4.
Internationally, this kind of star-driven thriller always performs well. Disclosure did $129.2m internationally over $83m domestically, Basic Instinct did $235m internationally to $117.7m domestically and even the execrable Basic Instinct 2 grossed $33.5m internationally compared to $6m in North America.
Perfect Stranger should follow that pattern, especially since Berry has proved, at least with Gothika ($82m to $59.6m) in 2003, that she can drive a film to bigger numbers overseas.
The cheese factor in Perfect Stranger is indeed right up there with Gothika and Berry's Catwoman fiasco. Director is James Foley, whose experiments in the thriller genre with Confidence, Fear and The Corruptor, have been erratic, while the production company is Revolution Studios, which has mastered the art of making B-level movies with A-grade talent in the seven busy years of its existence.
How far would go to keep a secret' asks the film's advertising campaign. As it happens, every character in Perfect Stranger is telling lies aplenty while harbouring secrets and alternative identities.
There's crusading reporter Rowena Price (Berry) who writes under a male pseudonym for (fictional newspaper) The New York Courier and starts the film off uncovering a right-wing senator as a closeted gay man.
There's her sidekick Miles (Ribisi), a computer whizzkid at the paper, who has a secret crush on Rowena which is less innocent than she imagines.
And then there's Harrison Hill (Willis), the target of Rowena's latest investigation, who is married to a beautiful woman but is a serial womanizer, secretly cheating behind his wealthy wife's back.
The mystery begins when Rowena runs into an old childhood friend Grace (Nicki Aycox) who tells her that she has had an affair with Hill, the chairman of Manhattan's most powerful ad agency, after meeting him in an online chat room, and that she is contemplating revealing the affair to Hill's wife.
A week later, Grace is found dead and Rowena suspects that Hill was responsible. She dons disguise as a temp called Katherine and gets work in Hill's office while simultaneously engaging him online through his online moniker 'Adex'. The two start flirting in the office and Hill targets her as his next fling.
But Grace, she discovers, was not only involved with Hill, but also with Miles and her ex-boyfriend Cameron (Gary Dourdan). As Rowena gets closer to proving Hill's guilt in the murder, she becomes haunted by her own childhood relationship with Grace and the secrets they both shared.
The surprise ending is a betrayal of the audience, leaving a bad taste that will result in half-hearted word of mouth when it might otherwise have been enthusiastic.
But then again, there is nobody to root for in Perfect Stranger. None of the characters, including Berry's Rowena, is particularly likeable and all is endowed with personality traits of a particularly unsavoury nature.
Berry, whose post-Oscar choices have been anything but classy, is nonetheless always compelling, and Willis, of course, has charm to burn even though he is getting a little old to play such a rampant lothario. Ribisi doesn't stray from type as a nerd-cum-pervert with more than a few dirty secrets of his own.
From a story by Jon Bokenkamp