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A Perfect Muder: A merciful slaying makes this movie end faster

By Vladimir V. Zelevinsky
Staff Reporter

With Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, Viggo Mortensen

Screenplay by Patrick Smith Kelly

Based on the play Dial M For Murder by Frederick Knott

Directed by Andrew Davis.

A Perfect Murder is the worst kind of bad movie there is - for reviewing, at least. It does not feature horrible dialogue, impossible situations, or lazy plotting. It is simply lackluster - sluggish, boring, and lazy, with nothing to be excited about, nothing to write about, and nothing to recommend. Admittedly, watching it was never painful, which alone saves it from being the worst I've seen this year so far, but this is faint praise indeed.

The story, adapted from a play Dial M for Murder, done once before by none other than Alfred Hitchcock, revolves around three miserable people in New York City - financial tycoon Steven Taylor (Michael Douglas), his wife Emily (Gwyneth Paltrow), and her lover, a struggling painter David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen). For roughly two hours, these three engage into half-hearted attempts to cheat, bribe, blackmail, double cross, and kill each other.

What emerges defies categorization. It's not a suspense film, since it very much lacks suspense - only a couple of short sequences have any semblance of tension. It's not a mystery, since every single plot twist is telegraphed way in advance, and the ending is painfully obvious from the very beginning. It's not an action/thriller, since there's not much going on - a detailed summary would take a couple of paragraphs, tops -and since most of the events lack explanations, both physical (how could this happen?) and psychological (why would this happen?). It's not a drama, because caring for any of these three protagonists is virtually impossible: Steven is rich and cruel, David is poor and dishonest, and Emily is a non-character to such an extent that she almost disappears from the screen. It is simply a boring film.

The acting doesn't help much. Michael Douglas can act heartless rich men in his sleep by now, having gone from Wall Street to last year's The Game. He's quite effective here, but there is a total lack of originality in his performance. His two co-stars fare much worse. Mortensen comes off as a simple thug, and Paltrow wears only two facial expressions confusion and terror through the whole movie.

In any case, any momentum that might have been in the story is sapped away by Andrew Davis' sluggish direction - and he was nominated for an Oscar for The Fugitive! In vain attempts to create some dark mood or sinister atmosphere, Davis uses long shots of scenery: streets, empty rooms, sidewalks, etc., and this results in a plot which lumbers along with painful lack of speed.

At least the scenery is realized well, with solid art direction that makes good use of David's paintings. The musical score is another noteworthy aspect of this film, if only because it attempts to infuse some excitement.

That's really as much as I can muster to write about A Perfect Murder. All in all, this movie is nothing but two hours I spent in the dark while whatever was happening on screen was left far behind by the speedy movement of my watch's minute hand.