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(1998) (Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow) (R)

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Bad Attitude
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Suspense/Thriller: A wealthy businessman coerces his wife's lover to murder her, but must then scramble to cover himself as his well-conceived plan unravels.
Steven Taylor (MICHAEL DOUGLAS) is a wealthy and powerful businessman who's married to Emily (GWYNETH PALTROW), a multilingual translator and aide to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Their marriage is strained at best, however, and Emily has been having an affair with David Shaw (VIGGO MORTENSEN), a struggling artist whose passion fulfills Emily's need for the emotional commitment her husband can't provide.

Steven, however, secretly knows of this affair and coerces David into agreeing to murder Emily, offering to thrown in half a million dollars to sweeten the deal. It turns out David has a prior criminal record and Steven has information that would send him to prison for a long time. Thus, David reluctantly agrees and he follows Steven's elaborate, well conceived, and seemingly foolproof plan until something goes wrong and Emily manages to survive the attempt on her life.

From that point on, the three enter into a twisting game of cat and mouse as each tries to cover themselves and figure out who knows what while a police detective, Mohamed Karaman (DAVID SUCHET) becomes increasingly suspicious of Steven.

If they're fans of someone in the cast or of suspense/thrillers, they might, but this one seems aimed only at the older teen and adult audience.
For violence, sexuality and language.
Considering the affairs and murderous intentions, it's doubtful many parents would consider any of the leads to be good role models.


OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
The old adage goes, "The best laid plans of mice and men oft times go astray," and that's certainly proven in this week's film, "A Perfect Murder." Fortunately, the filmmakers' plans to revamp and update Alfred Hitchcock's lesser known 1954 film, "Dial M For Murder," work out much better than that of the picture's main character. Based on Frederick Knott's stage play that Hitchcock shot in 3-D with Ray Milland and the lovely Grace Kelly, this isn't an exact remake. The characters have changed as have bigger pieces of the story, and while the overall plot is similar, it's undergone a modern retrofitting.

Director Andrew Davis ("The Fugitive," "Chain Reaction"), working from a screenplay by Patrick Smith Kelly (his feature film writing debut), has delivered an old-fashioned suspense thriller that should completely please fans of the genre. Unlike many similar films, this one differs in that you're never exactly sure how it will end (in fact, they redid the ending after test audiences didn't like the way things initially turned out). Likewise, it lets the audience know up front the identities of the would-be killers. The "fun," therefore, comes from having their plan unravel and watching them trying to cover their tracks. As they do, the plot begins to twist and curve and thus ensures more suspense and complete audience involvement.

To make that happen, however, you need an engaging cast and in that regard Davis has mightily succeeded. While some may argue that Michael Douglas ("The American President," "The Game") is only replaying his Gordon Gecko character from "Wall Street" (for which he won an Oscar), the characters aren't exactly the same. Besides, Douglas plays the extremely successful, sophisticated and impeccably dressed character so well that he's always completely believable and the audience loves him in that sort of role. His is certainly not a likeable character, but he's always interesting to watch and the audience will get a kick out of watching him squirm when his "perfect murder" becomes anything but that.

Filling the Grace Kelly role (a nearly impossible task) is Gwyneth Paltrow, the hardest working actress of the year with this, her fourth movie of 1998 (the others being "Great Expectations," "Hush," and "Sliding Doors"). Equally capable of playing dignified characters like Douglas, Paltrow is perfectly cast as the love-starved wife who begins to figure out what her husband's up to. Viggo Mortensen ("G.I. Jane," "Crimson Tide") also delivers a good performance as the somewhat creepy lothario whose actions set the plot into motion and then later alter its course.

It's that twisting, convoluted plot, however, that really makes the movie entertaining. Right from the start we're introduced to the notion that plans will go awry. When Steven decides at the last moment to join Emily at a reception to which she's also invited David, we not only see the plot gelling, but also have that notion of things going wrong planted in our subconscious.

Of course, everyone knows that the murder won't work as planned -- or else the movie would be rather short -- but the tension and suspense are still there in the big scene. Obviously things go wrong and it's watching Douglas' character try to connive his way out of a major predicament that provides the thrill for the audience. He's a perfect "love to hate" character and that benefits the picture so much better than a standard issue, cardboard villain.

Although a few moments are telegraphed a bit too much (the meat thermometer gets a closeup that can only signal its later use), the chief detective's role seems almost like an afterthought, and purists will balk at any of Hitchcock's work being redone (and there are even more coming down the pike), overall the film works quite well. As long as the subject matter doesn't bother or repulse you, and you like suspense/thrillers, you'll probably get a kick out of this film. We did and thus give "A Perfect Murder" a 7 out of 10.

Here's a quick look at the film's content. Profanity is heavy with 9 uses of the "f" word (an extreme rating needs 10) and an assortment of others. Violence is extreme with three people being killed, one of which is quite bloody. We see several sexual encounters, but most of that consists of seeing a couple rolling around under the sheets, although some oral sex is briefly implied. Finally, all of the major characters have extreme cases of bad attitudes, what with the extramarital affair and the plot to kill someone. If you or anyone else in your home wishes to see this film, you should probably read through the content first to make sure it's appropriate.

  • Steven holds a martini and fixes one for Emily.
  • People drink at a reception.
  • Steven and others have drinks in a bar.
  • Emily, her friend Rachel, and others have drinks in a bar.
  • Men playing poker with Steven have drinks.
  • Emily and her mother have wine with dinner.
  • Emily's friend, Rachel, has wine.
  • A person is stabbed in the neck with a meat thermometer and blood squirts out everywhere, covering Emily and parts of the kitchen. Later, we see a very large pool of blood next to the person on the kitchen floor, as well as bloody footprints.
  • We see a black and white photo of the dead and bloody assailant.
  • A person is stabbed and is a little bloody.
  • A person has some slightly bloody scrapes/cuts on their head.
  • A person who's just been shot has bloody bullet holes in their chest.
  • All of the major characters have extreme cases of both. Steven dominates his wife and then hires someone to kill her (for revenge concerning her infidelity, but also for her estate). Emily has both for having an affair (for six months) and lying to Steven. David has both for having an affair with Emily, for agreeing to kill her for money and to save his own butt, and for being an all-around con artist (with a great deal of criminal activity in his past).
  • As the murder plan begins, the suspense mounts as everything falls into place until the masked intruder makes his way into their home. Then, as he tries to kill Emily, the tension level dramatically increases (during the minute or so long attack).
  • Steven races to cover his tracks before the police arrive after the above.
  • Emily returns to her home and slowly walks through the place as suspenseful music plays.
  • A person pops out from behind a closed door and stabs another person with a knife.
  • Two people violently struggle, several gunshots are fired, and one person ends up dead.
  • Handgun: Seen in David's portfolio, and later carried by him.
  • Meat Thermometer: Used to stab someone in the neck, killing them.
  • Handguns: Held by police as they arrive at Steven and Emily's home.
  • Knife (or similar object): Used to stab someone in the gut/chest that kills them.
  • Handgun: Used to shoot someone dead.
  • Phrases: "Screwing around" (sexual), "Candy ass," "Balls" (testicles), "Bastard" and "Shut up."
  • A person suddenly grabs Emily.
  • A person pops out from behind a closed door.
  • An extreme amount of suspenseful music occurs during the film.
  • None.
  • At least 9 "f" words (2 used sexually), 2 "s" words, 5 hells, 2 asses, 1 damn, and 4 uses of "Oh my God," 2 of "G-damn," and 1 use each of "For God's sakes" and "Oh God" as exclamations.
  • We see brief glimpses of Emily and David rolling around under the covers of his bed and see some minor movement, but no nudity (and all from a distance).
  • We see glimpses of the lower part of Emily's butt (in high cut black underwear) as she gets dressed (and is just wearing a long shirt).
  • Emily and David kiss again and he then kisses down her chest and toward her crotch (we don't see that, but do see her lean her head back in ecstacy and hear some pleasured sounds). We then see them again rolling around under the sheets with some minor movement but no nudity.
  • Discussing what to do after their plan has backfired, David asks Steven, "Hey Steve, do I keep f*cking your wife in the meantime, or what?"
  • Steven smokes cigars in a few scenes.
  • People smoke in a bar.
  • Men playing poker with Steven smoke.
  • Obviously Steven and Emily have big marital problems, but no kids are involved.
  • Extramarital affairs.
  • Hiring someone to kill another person.
  • That criminal plans, no matter how elaborately planned and carefully conceived, rarely work as expected.
  • A masked man grabs Emily in her kitchen and throws her over a table and then smashes her against a wall. He then slams her onto the stove and starts to strangle her. Emily grabs a kitchen knife and tries to stab the assailant, but he stops her and continues to strangle her. She then grabs a meat thermometer and jabs it into his neck, sending the blood squirting and him falling to the floor dead.
  • A person stabs another person with a knife (or similar object) that kills them.
  • A person hits another person quite hard on their head. The second person then throws the first across the room and to the floor. The first then shoots the second in the arm, they then struggle and the first person shoots the second several times, killing them.

  • Reviewed May 30, 1998

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