A Perfect Murder

Directed by Michael Martin. Starring Master P, A.j. Johnson, Gretchen Palmer, Tommy “tiny” Lister, Helen Martin, John Witherspoon. (1998, R, 107 min.)

REVIEWED By Hollis Chacona, Fri., June 5, 1998

For all of its brutality, and it has plenty, A Perfect Murder is a pretty good stab at a parlor murder movie. Tasteful, chilly, and polite, it is foul play at its traditional best: Anglo-Saxon, urban, and upper class. Director Davis (The Fugitive) knows the genre and nearly succeeds at creating a Nineties version of a vintage murder mystery. A Perfect Murder is based loosely on the successful stage play and subsequent Hitchcock movie, Dial M for Murder, but it is the trappings of its mystery, not the plot or the dialogue, that give this version its panache. Michael Douglas plays Steven Taylor, a suavely amoral bond baron whose lust for acquisition has carried over to his very young, very beautiful, very rich wife. But Emily (Paltrow) is in love with David (Mortensen), a talented and struggling artist whose bohemian life and unbridled passion offer an irresistible alternative to the aristocratic confines of her marriage. Steven's reaction is cold-bloodedly genteel. He carefully plots her perfect murder and pays David to do the dirty work while he calmly plays cards at the club with his business cronies. Alas, good help is still so hard to find…. In a transparently foreshadowed fashion, Emily instead turns her attacker into dead meat and the cat-and-cat-and-mouse game begins in earnest. Everything about this movie is stylish. From the burnished copper, tile, and leather of the posh penthouse to the leaden concrete, canvas, and metal of the artist's loft, the set design is a visual feast. And there is a rare and delicious quiet to the movie that makes every moment seem important and serious. Too important and too serious. What's missing is the sly wit, the banter, the suave superiority solidly trounced that are staples of the drawing room murder (and promised in the film's trailer). I kept expecting some clever little crumb to be tossed our way, especially when David Suchet (who plays Inspector Hercule Poirot on the British television series seen on PBS) turns up as NYPD Detective Mohamed Karaman. But aside from the ghoulishly silly murder weapon, there is no drollery in the proceedings and the warmth comes too late, leaving us no one to laugh at or root for throughout most of the film. We're given tidbits of human connection and Paltrow positively shines in a wonderful, wistful whisper of an ending, but as beautiful as the finished puzzle is, it's still missing a few vital pieces.

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