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A Perfect Murder

movie reviewvideo review out of 4

*Also starring: Viggo Mortensen, Michael P. Moran, Novella Nelson, David Suchet, Constance Towers

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1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie review
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Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

Rule number one for successful affairs: Do not leave your wedding ring behind at your lover's apartment.

Gorgeous and fabulously wealthy Emily Bradford Taylor has been spending a lot of time lately with her favorite painter, the impoverished David Shaw, and it's not just to admire his etchings. We watch them kiss while rolling over and over in bed so they must be more than just good friends. (Sex in the movies is, well, different.) Although they naively believe that their clandestine relationship has not been discovered, Emily's husband, Steven, knows, and he plans to put a stop to it in a most unusual way. He's going to offer David $500,000 to kill Emily.

A remake of Alfred Hitchcock's DIAL M FOR MURDER, A PERFECT MURDER is by Steven Seagal's action director Andrew Davis (ABOVE THE LAW and UNDER SIEGE), who seems lost remaking an intricate Hitchcockian thriller. Without the usual explosions or constant violence to punctuate his movie, Davis has the cameras instead pan the Taylor mansion so frequently that you may think it's the latest installment of "The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."

As investment banker Steven Taylor, Michael Douglas gives us Gordon Gecko-lite. Patrick Smith Kelly's script needs more sharply drawn characters. Steven, for example, should be more ruthless and coldly calculating. Instead, he's a villain without much of a cinematic punch.

As Steven's wife, Gwyneth Paltrow is certainly lovely, but she lacks the visceral vulnerability necessary for the suspense to build properly. Paltrow seems more to be in a third parallel universe from SLIDING DOORS than in a thriller.

Viggo Mortensen from G. I. JANE plays the sleazy lover and "petty swindler" David. Badly miscast, Mortensen gives a fairly lifeless performance. Never threatening or particularly convincing, Mortensen looks relatively disinterested in the entire production.

David Suchet, television's Hercule Poirot, appears all too briefly as Detective Mohamed Karaman. His role, which could and should have added an interesting investigative part to the story, is never developed. His character's sole purpose apparently is for Emily to be able demonstrate her foreign language dexterity. She converses with him in his native tongue to inquire about his family's health.

Once David accepts Steven's money, the story takes a few twists and turns, but Davis stages the scenes without any regard for subtlety. He brings the camera in tight and has it frame the future murder weapon so that we all know in advance what will happen. And when Steven drops an envelope and paper with care, Davis zooms the camera in so we can see David put his fingerprints on them. Next, we watch Steven meticulously covering the fingerprinted materials in case anyone in the audience missed the last obvious clue. Davis doesn't want any "surprises" that are not suitably preannounced.

In order to atone partially for the lackluster story, Davis injects a heavy orchestral score by THE POSTMAN's James Newton Howard. With long violin notes, pianos in the low registers, and blaring French horns, we are reminded incessantly that this is a thriller no matter how languid the pacing.

Having the ingredients for a mystery isn't the same thing as actually creating one. One needs an accomplished chef to prepare the dish, and Davis needs explosions and fast actions to concoct a cinematic treat. He had the recipe right in THE FUGITIVE, but he has long since lost it. His blow 'em up extravaganza, CHAIN REACTION, was his last movie attempt, and it was a bomb in more ways than one.

A thriller without much genuine suspense isn't much of a thriller even if the atmospherics are dead-on as they are in A PERFECT MURDER. The picture, however, is instructive. In addition to the wedding ring rule, we learn that, if you're fabulously rich, don't forget those pre-nups.

A PERFECT MURDER runs 1:47. It is rated R for violence, profanity and sex and would be fine for most teenagers.

Copyright 1998 Steve Rhodes

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