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Where’s Balky?: Dissecting Perfect Stranger

Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic

Image It just so happens that the night before seeing Perfect Stranger, I was watching a certain cable channel around midnight or so and they were showing a film that I hadn’t seen before, Hide and Seek. Since I rarely miss a Robert DeNiro film I couldn’t help but watch. (There is also an unwritten rule that says that even the worst film isn’t that bad at midnight, on television, and while you’re half asleep anyway.) While Hide and Seek started out somewhat promising, a little bit more than halfway through it took a turn that I like to call “The Shyamalan eventuality.” What does this mean? Well it’s when a film decides to throw in a “twist” that has been repeatedly bastardized since M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. While the surprise in that film made logical sense and actually added depth, most screenwriters since have used “The Shyamalan eventuality” as a cheap trick to try and make their lame screenplay seem more interesting than it actually is. It’s used most frequently when the screenwriter has hit a dead end with no real place to go.

Sorry for the long lead in to my review of Perfect Stranger, but the fact remains that this film does almost exactly the same thing as Hide and Seek and so many other films that suffer from “The Shyamalan eventuality.” Halle Berry plays Rowena Price, a newspaper reporter who after having her expose involving a politician and a gay lover squashed by her editor, decides to personally investigate the suspicious death of an old childhood friend. She goes undercover as an employee of advertising guru Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis) a multi-millionaire who may or may not have killed her friend after he may or may not have had an affair with her. Assisting Rowena in her investigation is her colleague from the newspaper, Miles Hailey ( Giovanni Ribisi) who may or may not have his own secret obsession with Rowena and her hot body.  As Rowena gets close to Hill she is somehow able to lure him into falling for her (maybe it’s just that Halle Berry mojo?) and therefore reveal “secrets” about his lifestyle.

Did Hill kill her friend? Is Ribisi a pervert? Does Bruce Willis only make good films when he’s bald? Will Halle Berry ever make a smart career choice after winning the Oscar? Don’t worry, I won’t give away the film’s “twist” just in case you still care about the answer to any of these questions. I do have a few questions of my own however. For instance, even if you can find it in yourself to believe the "twist" in Perfect Stranger, you would still have to ask if Rowena would have gone through all of this convoluted drama while also allowing the Ribisi character to get involved as well. Wouldn’t it have been better for her to just avoid the situation altogether and go take a long vacation somewhere? And speaking of the Ribisi character, he really exists only to act as a huge red herring, and the whole sub-plot involving him and Rowena seems to belong in some other film. I guess it comes down to the fact that I don’t believe any of these characters' actions or motives at all; they are all there to simply allow the writers (John Bokenkamp and Todd Komarnicki) and the director (James Foley, obviously slumming) to throw a contrived cheap trick into the last reel; a trick that has become all too common. Blame M. Night Shyamalan.