Don’t talk to New York tabloid reporter Rowena Price (Halle Berry) about ethics. Anything goes when it comes to making the front page especially if it means exposing an influential politician’s hypocritical stand on gay marriage. Even when that story is spiked and she quits her job in protest Price doesn’t think twice about going undercover to track down the killer of a childhood friend. See Price’s deceased gal pal was ready to reveal all about her bedroom antics with the very married and the very unfaithful advertising hotshot Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis). Even a lowly editorial assistant would point a finger at Hill as the likely culprit--but forget going to the cops. Price and fellow muckraker Miles Hailey (Giovanni Ribisi) set out to get the dirt on Hill by any means necessary. Pretending to be a temp in Hill’s office our intrepid reporter and her partially unbuttoned blouse catch her horny new boss’s eye quicker than you can say “Take a letter Miss Price.” If seducing Hill means bringing him to justice Price is prepared to lie back and think of the Pulitzer Prize she’s so desperate to win. Oh doesn’t this have all the makings of a guilty pleasure? If only. Perfect Stranger harks back to the bad old pre-Oscar days of Swordfish when Berry reportedly received a $500 000 bonus to doff her top. Director James Foley obviously didn’t have that kind of money to pay Berry to show more skin than she does in Perfect Stranger. But she does spend much of her time sashaying through Perfect Stranger like a Pussycat Doll posing as an office temp. Then again the 40-year-old Berry could go undercover as Ugly Betty and still get her boss all hot under his collar. Unfortunately Berry seems more concerned with turning heads than making us feel connected to Price or concerned for her safety. For a woman who purportedly is dedicated to seeking out the truth Price is a nasty piece of work whose ambition and methods will only confirm the public’s suspicions that journalists have no scruples. No wonder the equally slimy Hill drools all over her. But save for one late-night rendezvous that’s admittedly fraught with sexual tension Bruce Willis just doesn’t seem all that into Berry. Check that man’s pulse stat! Then again Willis barely has any fun with the scenery-chewing role of the power-hungry white-collar womanizer that’s usually reserved for Michael Douglas. The same can’t be said for Giovanni Ribisi who’s downright manic but thoroughly entertaining as the computer geek with a stalker-like crush on Price. Shifting easily from funny to creepy in the blink of an eye Ribisi is the only reason Perfect Stranger is marginally better than the usual commingling of blood and bodily fluids found on Cinemax after midnight. Most of the enjoyment derived from sitting through such a sordid affair as Perfect Stranger comes from playing armchair detective. But director James Foley—working from a grubby and foulmouthed script by Todd Komarnicki and Jon Bokenkamp that pilfers the best and the worst of Basic Instinct et al.—shamelessly and regretfully deprives us of that pleasure. He simply refuses to provide any clues as to the killer’s identity. While all roads lead to Hill the evidence is circumstantial at best. So when Perfect Stranger slowly and uneventfully reaches its ludicrously orchestrated and highly implausible climatic confrontation with the killer you feel cheated that you had absolutely no chance of being able to distinguish the guilty party from the many red herrings. If that’s not enough Perfect Stranger is all talk and no action. There’s the promise of plenty of hot and sweaty sex including some girl-on-girl action with Hill’s overprotective personal assistant that would have allowed Price to snuggle up closer to her quarry. But when all is said and done Perfect Stranger turns out to be perfectly prudish when it comes to doing the dirty deed. And there’s less flesh than an episode of your favorite daytime soap opera. Unfortunately that leaves you stuck listening to a lot of filthy chatter that is never as crudely inventive or unintentionally hilarious as the tête-à-têtes between Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. If only Stone’s Catherine Tramell had taken an ice pick to this Perfect Stranger.
November 12, 2003 8:57am EST
A combination of classic Christmas tales Elf is the story of Buddy an orphaned baby who crawls into Santa's toy bag and ends up being raised by elves as one of their own in the North Pole. But years later at 6 feet 3 inches tall this eccentric "elf" just doesn't fit in--literally and figuratively--so his adoptive father Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) tells him about his real father a children's book publisher living in New York City. Like the aspiring dentist elf in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Buddy sets off to his version of the Island of Misfit Toys Manhattan but his dreams of a sugarplum-filled reunion turn sour when his dad Walter (James Caan) turns out to be a Grinch-like curmudgeon more concerned with money then anything else. Worst of all Buddy believes everyone in the city has forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. But when Santa's sleigh crash-lands in Central Park on Christmas Eve New Yorkers like the people of Whoville in How the Grinch Stole Christmas break out into song and their energy bestows enough holiday spirit to thrust Santa's reindeer-driven sleigh back into the sky. And Buddy? He wins his father over by publishing a profitable biography of his life.
Tall blonde and goofy-looking Ferrell's characterization of Buddy as a naïve and tenderhearted giant is absolutely hilarious and is the saving grace behind Elf. Ferrell resuscitates the film's not-so-funny lines with his delivery: he has a babyish way of pointing out the obvious in a manner that would normally be considered insulting: for example when he meets a renowned children's author (Peter Dinklage) who happens to be a "little person " he excitedly points out "Hey you're an elf!" Playing Buddy's biological father and serious counterpart is veteran actor Caan whose unyielding expressions make Buddy's persona seem even more over the top--like when he tells his son flat out that that it's time to ditch the yellow tights. Adding an edge to the normally jovially portrayed Santa Clause is Edward Asner whose chubby St. Nick is more stressed out and short-tempered than jolly--as expected from a man with all his responsibilities.
With a wacky concept and a great cast it's a shame director Jon Favreau (Made) never fully exploits Elf's potential; Like Santa's reindeer-guided sleigh the movie launches with an encouraging start in the North Pole but sputters and eventually nose-dives in the heart of Central Park. Elf's opening North Pole sequence are by far the film's best with the lofty Buddy somewhere in his 30s still not fully comprehending that he is not an elf. The tiny snowcapped sets create a truly funny juxtaposition for Ferrell's oversized character as he crams into miniscule props including a school desk a bathtub a bed and an impractically small house. But like a blizzard Favreau plows through the movie's creative North Pole setting and into the insipid city backdrop where the film falls prey to clichéd fish-out-of-water jokes. Here Buddy marvels at all things cosmopolitan including department store revolving doors and escalators. It's a shame Favreau cut short Buddy's antics as a lanky middle-aged human surrounded by elves in the North Pole while utterly prolonging his experiences as an elf in New York City.