Rated R - Running time: 1:47 - Released 6/5/98

In the latest of his string of psychological thrillers, Michael Douglas does not stray very far from the characterization he has established. As in Fatal Attraction (1987), Wall Street (1987), and The Game (1997), he plays an arrogant, wealthy man with icewater in his veins. Gwyneth Paltrow has also begun to form a groove, with a portrayal almost identical to her part in Hush earlier this year. She is again the unsuspecting victim, and those wounded eyes of hers serve ideally for the part. But despite the fact that we have seen both these characters before, they are well done, and this film is just as tense and exciting as those mentioned.

A Perfect Murder, directed by Andrew Davis, is a remake of Alfred Hichcock's 1954 classic Dial M For Murder, though Patrick Smith Kelly's script is updated considerably from that of Frederick Knott. It is about stocks tycoon Steven Taylor (Douglas) and his beautiful but unfaithful wife Emily (Paltrow), and the man who comes between them in more ways than one: David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen), a struggling artist with whom Emily has fallen in love. Soon after the opening credits, we find that Steven is wise to what's going on. He tracks David down and reveals that he is aware of his past as a criminal. It seems David has a history of taking up with wealthy women to get at their money. So Steven, who also wants Emily's fortune, makes it easier: he will pay David $500,000 to kill his wife.

As usual with the best-laid plans of mice and men, the murder goes awry. Steven has to scramble to hide evidence that he may have had a part in the attempt, and David has to explain why Emily's still breathing. A complex trail of clues leads Emily to try to figure things out for herself, but it's hard to tell if that's a good thing or not: her knowledge may get her in trouble with both men.

This is certainly a gripping tale, and contains the kind of nail-biting action inherent in its predecessor. And it is filled out nicely with original music by James Newton Howard. But it doesn't really offer anything new to the genre. Though exciting and suspenseful, it is almost interchangeable in style with the various Douglas movies mentioned. There is something simpler, more old-fashioned, about this one, however. Perhaps in deference to Hitchcock, Davis and Kelly chose to stay away from sub-plots and complications one might find in an original 1990s work. The result is a very meat-and-potatoes thriller, simple but exciting. ****

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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