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Review: 'A Perfect Murder' full of flaws

Web posted on: Thursday, June 04, 1998 6:05:07 PM

From Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- In 1954 Alfred Hitchcock directed the classic thriller, "Dial M For Murder," starring Grace Kelly and Ray Milland. Now Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow are taking a stab (literally) at an updated version of this tense drama entitled "A Perfect Murder."

I admit that wealthy, powerful, older men and gorgeous younger women trade off their obvious assets and get married all the time. That still doesn't make it necessarily pleasant to watch on a 40-foot screen.

Clip: "Why'd you give him my number?"
2.1Mb QuickTime movie

Complete theatrical trailer
5.6Mb QuickTime movie

Paul Clinton reviews "A Perfect Murder"
6.2Mb QuickTime movie

Michael Douglas, who is a contemporary of and friend to Paltrow's parents, TV producer Bruce Paltrow and actress Blythe Danner, unfortunately looks every one of his 54 years and then some. Gwyneth Paltrow is 25 and could pass for much younger. I kept waiting for her to say, "Hello, Mr. Douglas, Mommy and Daddy will be right down."

But back to the plot. Douglas plays a cold, calculating multi-millionaire industrialist named Steven Taylor. Paltrow is his young, glamorous, at times dim-witted wife, Emily, who finds emotional and physical fulfillment in the arms of a young artist named David, played by Viggo Mortensen. (He played the Navy Seal drill sergeant opposite Demi Moore in "G.I. Jane.")

Emily happens to be an heiress. Steven happens to be in finanical trouble. Since he's set to inherit his wife's 100-million dollar estate, he blackmails the artist, who has a messy past, into murdering his wife.

Of course everything goes wrong, and this wicked web gets more and more tangled as the story sinks lower and lower.

There are some major plot differences between "A Perfect Murder" and "Dial M For Murder," and true-blue Alfred Hitchcock fans will probably be disappointed in this updated version. However, if you take the film just on its own merits, it's still not that good.

The original film "Dial M For Murder" was based on a play of the same name. Hitchcock took the play and improved upon it with much better plot twists. "A Perfect Murder" was supposedly based on the play, not the film. Bad mistake -- Hitchcock knew what he was doing.

This production is stylishly mounted by the same production team that gave us "The Fugitive," including the director, Andrew Davis. But I found the script to be emotionally vapid.

I didn't sense any chemistry between either couple. Plus, I'm sorry, but I'm uncomfortable with the Douglas/Paltrow pairing. Yes, I know the script calls for a younger woman and older man, but there's older, and then there's older.

Also, right from the beginning, there's no mystery about the motives of the artist boyfriend. He's so fishy he should have "tuna" stamped on his forehead.

The inability of Paltrow's character to catch on and her bad taste in men wear thin. Plotwise, Steve and Emily are engaged in a battle of wits throughout this movie and unfortunately Emily is unarmed.

Meanwhile, Douglas keeps banging that one "bad guy" note all through the film. It's the same note he banged over and over again in "Wall Street," "Falling Down," "The Game," and numerous other films. Douglas is an excellent actor and a gifted producer. However, he should hang up his spurs when it comes to playing a romantic lead with women in their twenties.

"A Perfect Murder" is rated R and runs 110 minutes.

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