Leon Worden

'A Perfect Affair' predictably unpredictable

By Leon Worden
Friday, June 5, 1998

hat would you get if you threw "Wall Street" and "War of the Roses" in a blender, added a dash of "Fatal Attraction" and mushed the whole concoction into a demitasse cup? You'd get the new Warner Brothers release, "A Perfect Murder."

There is nothing particularly wrong with the film. The sights and sounds that punctuate the scene where Emily Taylor (Gwyneth Paltrow) plunges the meat thermometer through the intruder's skull are actually quite good, in a gruesome sort of way. Paltrow's abduction jerks you out of your chair.

But it's getting to the point where if you've seen one Michael Douglas film, you've seen them all. "An American President" was a refreshing break from the one-man Hitchcockian suspense thriller revival that Douglas has been doing in recent years. "A Perfect Murder" finds him back in the genre, which he exhausted some time ago.

For an actor of Douglas's caliber to allow himself to be typecast is a darned shame. It seems the budget office, not the art department, is dictating story lines. Douglas ought to be demonstrating his versatility by doing another adventure-comedy like "Romancing the Stone," or by romancing just about anything.

So. You know it's another Michael Douglas suspense flick. Therefore you know that the plot will take several complex twists and turns until somebody, or several somebodies, end up dead. You might say you can predict the story's unpredictability.

Douglas is a powerful, crooked New York investment banker who correctly deduces that his wife (Paltrow) is cheating on him. Paltrow is shacking up with a bohemian artist played by Viggo Mortensen. (Locals will want to listen for Mortensen's line in an early scene where he says he was schooled at "Berkeley and CalArts.")

The cheating Paltrow is now worth more to Douglas dead than alive, to the tune of about $100 million. He arranges for her to be bludgeoned with a frying pan. The contract killer is none other than the lover who, it turns out, isn't exactly the sensitive, caring artiste he pretends to be.

Director Andrew Davis takes a page of his own from Hitchcock by using tight close-ups and musical fillers to build intensity, particularly during the botched murder sequence, which is all-too-perfectly set against a backdrop of rain and thunder. The cinematography is moderately interesting, although you can't help wondering if the juxtaposition of light and shadow wouldn't come off better in black and white.

Occasional smatterings of clever dialogue pump some life into the stark characters, as when the unsympathetic Douglas admits to being envious of his wife's lover: "I'm not prone to envy. It's a pathetic emotion. It sneaks up on you like a cancer...."

The tables turn a few times and a strong ending might have made the whole thing worth while. Instead you get a miniature, inferior version of "War of the Roses."

Go rent "Roses." At least it's original. If you're compelled to get out of the house, "A Perfect Murder" is OK for a two-hour diversion. There aren't any boring parts, and fortunately they didn't stretch a two-hour movie into three like so many production companies have been doing lately.

    Leon Worden is The Signal's special sections editor.

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