“Perfect Stranger,” review by Susan Granger

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Is it some sort of Oscar curse? Hilary Swank sleepwalked through “The Reaping” and now Halle Berry is traumatized in this techno-thriller.

Berry plays Rowena Price, an abrasive investigative reporter who suspects that the murder of her childhood friend, a party-girl named Grace (Nicky Aycox), under mysterious circumstances might be connected to a prominent, womanizing ad exec Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis). So – with the help of a tech-savvy nerd, Miles Haley (Giovanni Ribisi) – she goes undercover with not one but two separate identities. She’s Veronica, who initiates a cyber-flirtation with Hill. She’s also Katherine Pogue, a temp at Hill’s agency. But she’s not the only one with a dual identity.

Director James Foley has always had a predilection for visually stylish film noir, as evidenced by “Fear,” “The Chamber” and “After Dark, My Sweet,” noting in the press notes, “Everybody lies. It just depends on how big the lie is, and what the consequences of the lie are.” But, this time, his helming simply gets overwrought.

Todd Komarnicki’s formulaic plot, based on a story by Jon Bokenkamp, is one you’ve seen before. Besides being derivative, it also makes little narrative sense, stretching vague connections to an extreme.

Beautiful Halle Berry, whose character is tortured by a childhood trauma, seems to be re-visiting “Gothicka,” albeit via Manhattan, appropriately clad for each of her identities by inventive costume designer Renee Kalfus, a patron of Victoria’s Secret. Propelled by ambition and careless about his adultery, Bruce Willis recalls remnants of his considerable seductive charm, while Giovanni Ribisi exudes manipulative emotional intensity. But they’re both Berry’s foils. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Perfect Stranger” is a voyeuristic, pointless 5. As for the “surprise” conclusion, convoluted moral ambiguity can be very unsatisfying.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.