Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Perfect Stranger (2007)

Remember, kids, the Internets is full of scary dangers!

Here's a film to warm the heart of the most curmudgeonly of our society, echoes the direst warnings of Singapore's well-meaning guardians of morality and order, and packs a visceral punch into the "What has Singapore come to?!" and "The world is not safe at all!" articles that Singapore's scaremongering tabloid press (The Straits Times, The New Paper...) prints on a slow news day. Remember, kids, the internet is full of scary dangers! On the internet, monsters lurk, predators abound, and no one is entirely who they seem to be! And of course, on the internet you can find all sorts of kinky romance... Now, about 10 years ago, this idea would have been terribly shocking, even revelationary. But after a decade of The Net, Enemy of the State, Hackers and Alias, do forgive me for being less than impressed if Hollywood makes a thriller whose premise and twist at the end are both based on the single idea that very rotten things happen on the internet. Ten years ago, this would have been gimmicky... now, it's just further evidence of the heights that director James Foley has fallen from since his award-winning Glengarry Glen Ross.

But back to the film at hand: muckracking investigative journalist Halle Berry runs into her childhood friend one fine evening, who turns up dead 5 minutes later. Turns out that the childhood friend had been carrying a troubled affair (over IM!) with the wealthy. powerful, and very married ad agency boss Bruce Willis before her horrific murder, and it's all up to Berry to start chatting up Bruce Willis on IM and go undercover at his ad agency to find out if he, his chilling, almost reptilian wife, or her lesbian secretary killed the said best friend, whom we obviously don't care about because we only saw her for less than 10 seconds in the movie. And of course, we can't expect Berry to go in alone; she is aided by Cheesey Tech-thriller holdover #1, the hacker sidekick, played by Giovanni Ribisi.

In recent Hollywood, once A-list actors are cast in a movie, scriptwriters feel forced to rewrite the screenplay to accomodate the public image, favoured screen personas and star appeal of these actors, leading to a disaster in the making. I'm not saying that Perfect Stranger is a stinker, but it would have been far easier to achieve a noir thriller with a cast of less celebrited actors. I mean, just look at the potential here: with a better script and a director more in control of his project, Perfect Stranger could be a techno-noir, with Halle Berry as both femme fatale and unethical, sad sack investigator who plunges herself into a corrupt world way out of her league. Instead, the realisation of the idea to screen is almost laughable - due to the overcomplicated plot (whose purpose and meaning crashes to pieces upon the twist at the end), Halle Berry's one-note acting, and most importantly the writers' off-key handling of the entire "internet is evil and freaky" meme. But even more important than that, the writers spoil the entire movie by choosing the worst of all possible endings. No, it's not the one where Halle Berry wakes up to find that the entire movie was a drream - it's far worse than that.

In a world where broadband, IM, Myspace, and internet pr0n are seen as average and normal, Perfect Stranger fails because of its incoherent hysteria of the internet and failure to weave a true murder mystery around this technology.

First published at incinemas on 2 August 2007

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