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Friday, March 6, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 5.0° F  Fair
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Writer on the storm
Berry bites off more scenery than she can chew.
Berry bites off more scenery than she can chew.

This may not count as much of an endorsement, but I was only mildly bored while watching Perfect Stranger, which stars Halle Berry as an investigative reporter who'll do just about anything for a story. Thrillers are supposed to be thrilling, and director James Foley would probably prefer that we watch his movie from the edges of our seats. But I rather en­joyed sitting back and letting the thing roll by on the screen, at least until the end, when Foley and scriptwriter Todd Komarnicki bite off more scenery than Berry can chew. She's never been all that dynamic an actress, nor is she that adept at playing sexy, if you ask me. But she's as gorgeous as ever, and she's been outfitted with a wardrobe that would make your average investigative reporter the subject of another investigative reporter's investigation. Only Woodward and Bernstein can afford threads this nice.

The movie opens with Berry's Rowena Price enjoying a gotcha moment with a U.S. senator who's been spending too much time tutoring the interns. But a payoff gets the story killed, and Rowena quits in a huff. What to do next? Well, never underestimate the value of a plot contrivance. Almost literally out of the blue, an old childhood friend of Rowena's shows up with a new target: Harrison Hill, a prominent advertising executive played by Bruce Willis. It seems that Hill, though married, has an eye for the ladies. And although philandering ad execs aren't quite up there with Constitution-destroying presidents, it does allow Perfect Stranger to neatly tuck an assortment of product placements - Victoria's Secret, Reebok, etc. - into the narrative. Also, the old childhood friend, who's been dating Hill on the sly, washes ashore at the local morgue, where Rowena dutifully vomits after identifying the body.

A bit of a cliché, that. Later, Rowena will tell a cab driver to keep the meter running, a line so old it almost seems new again. Okay, so the movie ain't exactly original, but it does try to break new ground in the area of text messaging. Assisted by one of those computer geniuses (Giovanni Ribisi) who allow scriptwriters to blithely plug the holes in their scripts, Rowena starts up a hot-and-bothered exchange with Hill by posing as Veronica, an old flame of his. She also takes a temp job at his agency by posing as Katherine Pogue. And as the identities start to multiply, it slowly dawns on us that the filmmakers don't have any idea what to do with them. Ribisi has some nice moments as a guy for whom spying comes as naturally as breathing. Willis can play this kind of role in his sleep and may well have done. And Berry? Berry has a big surprise for us at the end. If only there were some smaller ones before that....

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