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Movie Review

Rowena, a tenacious investigative reporter for a New York City newspaper, quits her job in frustration after her latest scandal-breaking story gets pulled. But she has little time for self-pity. She's immediately drawn into a Web of intrigue and deceit when Grace, a childhood friend, turns up dead.

Who did it, and why? Rowena and her techie colleague, Miles, follow an e-mail trail that leads them to Harrison Hill, a ruthless advertising exec known for cheating on his wealthy young wife. He's a snake. But did he kill Grace? Even if there's no Pulitzer in it, Rowena finds herself on a mission. While posing as a temp in Hill's office, she initiates an online game of cat-and-mouse to build a case against him.

Positive Elements

A woman rescues her daughter from an abusive man. Perverse obsession notwithstanding, Miles looks out for Rowena and gives her all of the technical support she needs. Hill claims that a key moral imperative for him is, "Don't betray your friends and those who love you." In a subtle and rather backward fashion, the film condemns his and others' hypocrisy. Adultery is portrayed as a crime of disloyalty. The movie also leaves the haunting impression that actions have consequences—and that someone is watching—no matter how hard a person may try to live under a veil of anonymity in this increasingly impersonal, high-tech age. Two characters are stung by the accusation, "You can't keep changing your identity and expect people to trust you."

Spiritual Content

When Rowena misquotes 1 Timothy 6:10 by stating that money is the root of all evil, Miles corrects her: "You've got your Scriptures wrong. It's the love of money."

Sexual Content

A family-values senator is exposed as a closet homosexual via compromising pictures. Rowena has creepy flashbacks of her father preparing to abuse her. And it's clear early on that Miles' interest in Rowena isn't entirely platonic. He exchanges kinky comments with her in chat rooms (she thinks she's being teased by Hill). Crude remarks allude to masturbation. Hill regularly cheats on his wife ("I am married. So what?") and flirts with co-workers. A series of Internet stills show a couple engaged in wild activity, including bondage. Descriptions of sexual desires, promiscuity and sadomasochism are common (played for laughs when they come from Gina, the office gossip). Hill kisses and gropes Rowena in a restaurant.

Rowena slips into lingerie and is shown wearing low-cut dresses. A Victoria's Secret party gives the filmmakers an excuse to clothe shapely girls in skimpy attire. Sex scenes resist the temptation to show nudity, but Hill and a mistress get passionate in a hotel room (viewed through a window from the street below), and Rowena has impetuous, very physical sex with an on-again, off-again boyfriend in a hallway. A voyeur listens in on Rowena and her lover, and has even built a perverse shrine to her. A twisted collage of photos display female breast nudity, as do images on a computer screen. One of Rowena's co-workers at the ad agency is said to be a lesbian, which makes Miles want to meet her.

Violent Content

A woman bashes a man with a fireplace poker, spraying blood on the wall. Another guy gets stabbed to death. When he learns that an employee gave a competitor sensitive information, Hill deals with that betrayal by storming into the guy's office and tossing him around like a rag doll in front of the staff. Grace's murder is depicted in photos, graphic dialogue and by showing her brutalized corpse at the morgue. Hill raises a fist to strike Rowena, but manages to control himself. Rowena slaps her boyfriend.

Crude or Profane Language

How do you make a beautiful woman unattractive? Have her projectile-vomit the f-word amid every angry, stressed-out rant, half the time as a crass term for intercourse. That expletive appears 40 times. Other inappropriate language includes anatomical and misogynist slang, s-words and exclamatory abuses of Christ's name.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Rowena and Miles celebrate a journalistic triumph by getting smashed at a bar. They drink alcohol on other occasions as well. Yet another character is partial to piña coladas. Rowena and Hill share daiquiris. An unusual drug is used to poison and disfigure Grace. Hill's mild intoxication during a toast inspires a slurred faux pas.

Other Negative Elements

Characters resort to spying, blackmail and framing innocent people to cover up their own crimes. As a journalist, Rowena crusades for "truth" but is comfortable deceiving and lying to others if it helps her get her story. The filmmakers take potshots at family-values crusaders who oppose homosexual marriage. Tired of seeing powerful men pull strings to keep other powerful men out of hot water, Rowena takes out those frustrations in a devious way.

Conclusion

Like that other Bruce Willis flick The Sixth Sense, Perfect Stranger is one of those thrillers that leads the audience down a certain path based on a set of assumptions, only to pull a fast one—or two—in the final 15 minutes. It's an interesting series of twists that raises questions about victimization, justice, hypocrisy and the perceived anonymity of cyberspace. But the 90 minutes of setup are brutal. Nudity, explicit sexuality and harsh language are treated as their own sick, visceral tease. Consequently, we get a bunch of wounded, selfish deceivers trying to outplay one another.

In addition to not giving us a moral hero to rally behind, director James Foley plays things too close to the vest, parsing out clues that don't add up to much during Rowena's often tedious, muddled attempt at proving Hill's guilt. This seedy whodunit only manages to keep its secret by withholding key evidence from the audience until right before the payoff. Perfect Stranger is all about the twist ... and the truly twisted.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

R

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Halle Berry as Rowena; Bruce Willis as Harrison Hill; Giovanni Ribisi as Miles; Nicki Aycox as Grace; Clea Lewis as Gina; Gary Dourdan as Cameron; Richard Portnow as Narron; Gordon MacDonald as Senator Sachs

Director

James Foley ( )

Distributor

Columbia Pictures

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Bob Smithouser

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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