A Perfect Murder

on June 05, 1998 by Wade Major
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To even the most fanatical Hitchcock devotees, the suspense maestro's 1954 production of Frederick Knott's play, "Dial M for Murder," starring Grace Kelly and Ray Milland, is regarded as something of a misfire, a negligible experiment in 3-D so dramatically lackluster that it wasn't even released in 3-D.
That anyone would even tempt the thought of a remake (especially after the horrendous 1981 telefilm) is mystifying enough. Going so far as to completely obfuscate any relationship to the original play and movie, thus killing the very publicity value that was presumably the only justification for even considering the project in the first place, seems downright silly.
Then again, "A Perfect Murder" is a perfectly silly remake. Despite the new film's attempt at a radical reworking of the familiar story, the core setup remains the same: A man plots his wife's perfect murder, only to have the plan go disastrously awry when she turns the tables on her would-be assassin. In this incarnation, the husband is a ruthless commodities trader (Michael Douglas) who sees a chance to both dispose of an unfaithful wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) and seize her $100 million fortune by blackmailing her ex-con, fugitive lover (Viggo Mortensen) into doing the job. The subsequent foul-up then gets the ball rolling as revelations beget twists beget double-crosses beget more twists and revelations.
To their credit, the team responsible for putting the project together--producers Arnold and Anne Kopelson, director Andrew Davis and screenwriter Patrick Smith Kelly--have given Knott's claustrophobic chamber piece a beautifully cinematic face-lift. The new film is big and expansive, shamelessly flaunting its New York locations with flash and sizzle, cinematography and art direction practically dripping off the screen.
If only as much attention had been paid to the story. As it stands, "A Perfect Murder" simpers along with relatively little suspense or thrills, and needlessly complicates Knott's already complex series of twists with new ones either borrowed wholesale from better movies or so hopelessly contrived that they undermine the film's credibility altogether.
Fortunately, Davis has elicited far more credible performances from his three leads than the script merits, with Douglas turning in yet another memorable white collar dirtbag and Paltrow at her alluring best. It is the chameleon-like Mortensen, however, who commands the film's best moments, investing his scenes with seething intensity and quiet restraint. Starring Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow and Viggo Mortensen. Directed by Andrew Davis. Written by Patrick Smith Kelly. Produced by Arnold Kopelson, Anne Kopelson, Christopher Mankiewicz and Peter MacGregor-Scott. A Warner release. Thriller. Rated R for violence, sexuality and language. Running time: 106 min.
Tags: Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, Viggo Mortensen, Andrew Davis. Written by Patrick Smith Kelly. Produced by Arnold Kopelson, Anne Kopelson, Christopher Mankiewicz, Peter MacGregor-Scott, Warner, Thriller
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