by Ed Symkus & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & L & lt;/span & et's begin with the utterly shameless ad campaign for this manipulative and mediocre film. Near the end of the preview trailer, a voice urges, "If you think you know how it will end, think again." Is this the "new" way of Hollywood, to tell us in advance that we're going to be surprised? How long has it been since The Sixth Sense? Eight years?

Well, I'm going to give this film's makers a small bit of credit: The actual ending, the absolute final shot, is pretty cool, and it ties up the threads of some earlier plot points.

But that wasn't enough for writer Todd Komarnicki or director James Foley. They had to go and bog down the last 10 minutes of the film with ending after ending after ending, with surprise on top of surprise, so that the surprises became tedious.

There's no doubt that the desired result was shock, but at the screening I attended, some audiences members started snickering, others laughed out loud, and just before that final shot, there was some clearly heard and very derisive hooting.

What goes on in those last 10 minutes is a complete reversal of everything that happened in the previous 96, making every lick of it irrelevant to the story. To be fair, not much about the murder mystery at its center makes sense to begin with, but once it's all "explained"... well, if you go to see this dumb movie, and make it all the way to the end(s), you, too, will likely start hooting.

Halle Berry is again given a film to star in, and even though she dolls herself up nicely and is pleasing to watch, she is not an actress who can hold a film together. Sometimes, when my brain has nothing better to do, I still wonder how she even got a nomination, never mind a gold statue, for her overwrought overacting in Monster's Ball. Here she plays hard-line, no-nonsense investigative journalist Rowena Price, who loves nothing better than to bring powerful bad men down -- to confront them, embarrass them, expose them for whatever wrongdoings they've committed.

When one story goes wrong, she up and quits, only to run in to an old acquaintance named Grace (Nicki Aycox), a unstable woman who feeds Rowena some fodder for another story that might topple another powerful man, something about a married guy she's been sleeping with.

But before you can say, "Hey, is this a movie about a man-hating woman?", Grace is dead. The maimed remains of her body are not a pretty sight, and Rowena decides, hell ,yeah, Grace had something to tell me, and I'm gonna find out what it was, and who did this.

What results is a wholly unbelievable tale of Rowena going undercover as a temp at the advertising company headed by her prime suspect, Harrison Hill. Bruce Willis convincingly plays this ruthless and demanding boss with a violent temper and an eye for the ladies. He is one scary dude. Rowena pretties herself up one more notch, then makes sure she's seen by him at every opportunity, till he takes the bait and asks her out.

But there's a problem or two accompanying her plan. (Then again, what exactly is her plan?) There's Hill's wealthy but suspicious wife (who follows him around from a distance, watching all of his female conquests). And there's Rowena's high-tech pal, Miles (Giovanni Ribisi), who assists her snooping from a distance, usually via phone or text messages, and who is able to do things with his computer that even 24's Chloe O'Brian couldn't touch. Miles has a crush on Rowena, maybe the biggest crush any character in cinema has ever had on another character. But of course, she doesn't notice.

The film's pieces slowly come together, with Rowena closing in on whoever committed the foul deed on her longtime friend. The script goes out of its way to damn or at least hype up the dangers of online dating and e-mail in general. And the film regularly reaches levels of high annoyance by plopping the bland Berry down at a keyboard and having her recite every word she types onscreen.

And then, ignoring its beginning and its middle, it ends and ends and ends... and ends. This movie is a Perfect Stranger to the idea of genuine closure.



Rated R

Directed by James Foley

Starring Halle Berry, Bruce Willis, Giovanni Ribisi

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