Getting to the heart of the problem with this self-dizzying suspense yarn may require thinking on its own terms. Computer-related angles of chatting, on-line hookups, and false on-line identities play into the tangled plot of murder, deceit, and the male/corporate power elite, and the film itself seems ultimately done in by the dangers of multi-tasking. With so many strands and thematic programs running simultaneously, it becomes a web of unfinished ideas, a string of communications left undone. As a result, we tend to respond with a hearty “who cares” shrug when the twisted endings of this whodunit finally arrive.
“All it takes to commit a murder is the right ingredients at the right time,” says frustrated investigative journalist Halle Berry early in the film, setting up its T-shirt-ready tag line. After having her expose of a politician kyboshed in a standard game of corporate-political cronyism, Berry quits her N.Y.C newspaper gig (where she, of course, wrote under a male pseudonym-no identity is pure in this story). She fixes her fierce investigative gaze on a philandering ad exec (Bruce Willis), who-as she tells her doting, nerdy, and at least slightly creepy journalist ally (Giovanni Ribisi)-is guilty of killing her girlfriend.
Questions start pouring into the premise like a torrent: Who is who and where are the bodies and secrets buried? And what is the password and who’s really behind that screen name? Stick around to the end, if you dare.
In a strange way, the one connective tissue in the mess is Halle Berry’s face, which is duly explored and caressed in its on-screen presence. There’s Halle in professional mode, there she is in temptress make-up, and there she is sans make-up and haunted-looking, revealing her evil persona. One of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood, Berry has also shown herself to be a strong performer, given good material to work with. Perfect Stranger is too imperfect and too implausible to give her much to latch onto. She sure lights up a screen, though.