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
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
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