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Thursday, June 11, 1998

Imperfections abound

Movie: A Perfect Murder

Posted on Thu, Jun 11, 1998 at 4:00 AM

**1/2
Our Rating: 2.50

Movie remakes tend to be a dubious lot. Their effectiveness as models of an original film's statement of theme is usually limited by the passing of years and social conventions. Andrew Davis' redux of Hitchcock's "Dial M For Murder" is no different. One of Hitch's main projects during his prime was to plunder unorthodox subjects, whereas in the '90s, a wealthy industrialist's arranging his wife's murder has become a cliché.

Reptilian Michael Douglas gets his bile flowing as Steven Taylor, a scheming businessman who discovers that his wife Emily (Gwyneth Paltrow) is cheating on him. Rather than going after the cuckold, bloodless downtown artist David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen), Steven coerces David into killing his wife. Douglas' portrayal is routinely heartless and aptly fitted to the ensuing drama as tensions mount. Davis' glossy visual style is similarly suited to the starkness of Patrick Smith Kelly's adapted script, but at least the director captivates.

Rather than titillate us with customary thriller tautness as mastered by old Hitch, director Davis relies on the subtle performances of Douglas and Paltrow when the lover's job goes awry. The result is a textured, if esoteric, shocker that uses Shaw's shadowy loft and bizarre paintings for psychic depth when the script falters. One might as well focus on the countless creases in Douglas' face for 45 minutes for the same effect.

"A Perfect Murder's" scant narrative and vapid entertainment bid (slightly modified by the presence of babe Sarita Choudhury as Emily's best friend, Raquel) comes to a head when Emily informs Steven that the jig is up and the slugs go flying. At least, we get to watch two filthy rich scamps tussle like curs for survival before the end of this voyeuristic scandal. "Vertigo" it isn't; Davis' new thriller feels more like the nausea without Jimmy Stewart hanging from a roof gutter.

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