PERFECT MURDER, AR
'There isn't very much we can say about that one, is there?' observed Alfred Hitchcock to Fran‡ois Truffaut regarding his 1954 film Dial M For Murder, based on Frederick Knott's play. The director's usual meticulous, inventive camerawork was severely hampered by the fact that Jack Warner asked that the film be shot in 3D, which required a camera as large as a room. Hitchcock's film was very faithful to the play, in that there were just a few scenes outside Ray Milland and Grace Kelly's living room. In this new version, director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) considerably opens up the play, using a multitude of New York City locations as his canvas.
A Perfect Murder preserves the essential husband-wife-lover triangle of the play and Hitchcock's adaptation. Financial world tycoon Steven Taylor (Michael Douglas) discovers his trophy wife Emily (Gwyneth Paltrow) is having an affair with David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen), a struggling artist who works and lives in an illegal loft space in Brooklyn. Steven's ego is understandably bruised when he meets David, who, with his long hair, cleft chin and brooding good looks, is like a younger, hipper version of himself. Steven confronts David and, to the artist's surprise, offers him $500,000 to murder Emily. It seems that Emily, who works as a translator at the U.N., has an immense trust fund which Steven would love to get his hands on, as he's been up to some shady business dealings which are about to land him in the poor house. David agrees to do the dirty deed when Steven reveals that he's got the goods on him; it turns out he's actually a con artist who preys on rich women, and Steven can finger him for a scam he pulled recently in Florida. Of course, things go awry when Emily kills the would-be murderer (with a meat thermometer instead of those terrific gleaming scissors in Hitchcock's version-not exactly an inspired change).
As A Perfect Murder doesn't offer much in the way of genuine suspense or even the sexual fireworks prohibited in the 1950s-Mortensen and Paltrow look great together, but their love scenes are tepid-the most fun to be had here is checking out Steven and Emily's drop-dead-gorgeous, art-filled apartment and such glitzy locations as the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Temple of Dendur, the site of a swanky soiree where Steven and David have their first t'te-à-t'te. While production designer Philip Rosenberg does exemplary work, director Davis, who's stumbled lately with Chain Reaction and Steal Big, Steal Little, isn't able to find much spark in Patrick Smith Kelly's serviceable but uninventive script. Sitting through A Perfect Murder is like watching a horse race you know is rigged; in this case, it's clear from the start that Steven will get caught, but a brilliant director like Hitchcock could still keep you on the edge of your seat. Douglas also seems to be going through the motions, as his character comes off like a pale echo of his tough-guy persona exploited in Basic Instinct, Wall Street and Disclosure. There's no doubt that Paltrow, a classic if perpetually chilly beauty, makes a perfect society wife, but how can one compare her to Grace Kelly? The ever-dour Mortensen, who dabbles in poetry and photography when he's not acting, gave his all for the production by painting the canvases on display in his character's loft. When David Suchet, who plays Inspector Hercule Poirot in the PBS series, appears as a suspicious police detective, it looks like things will finally get interesting, but the filmmakers unwisely relegate the one actor who's an antidote to this preeningly glamorous cast to the sidelines. Somewhere, Alfred Hitchcock is yawning.