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'A Perfect Murder':
Dial M for Mediocre


By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 5, 1998

  Movie Critic


A Perfect Murder
Gwyneth Paltrow and Michael Douglas star in "A Perfect Murder." (Warner Bros.)

Director:
Andrew Davis
Cast:
Gwyneth Paltrow;
Michael Douglas;
Viggo Mortensen;
Sarita Choudhury;
Michael P. Moran;
Novella Nelson;
David Suchet
Running Time:
1 hour, 54 minutes
R
For language and violence
Dialing M for Murder just isn't the same with a cell phone, as director Andrew Davis discovers in "A Perfect Murder," his uninvolving touch-tone remake of Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 thriller.

An adaptation of Frederick Knott's hit play, "Dial M" wasn't one of Hitchcock's best efforts. But the chatty chestnut, which mostly takes place in a British drawing room, is certainly more entertaining than Davis's posh, party-hopping update. Old-fashioned rotary phones are inherently more suspenseful than mobile ones, and the fear in the victim's eyes is more immediate in the moment than replayed on an answering machine.

Davis and comedian-cum-screenwriter Patrick Smith Kelly follow the basic premise of Knott's original, but have added new twists and revamped the characters in keeping with the times and the new technology. They've also substituted sizzle for suspense, beginning with a sheet-shaking opening scene between Gwyneth Paltrow and Viggo Mortensen in the roles more chastely rendered by Grace Kelly and Bob Cummings.

Paltrow is in love with Mortensen's starving artist, but she is already married to Michael Douglas's controlling master of the universe. Clearly chin dimples do for Paltrow what wattles do for that lawyer on "Ally McBeal." Otherwise, it's rather hard to see what the sophisticated young heiress finds in either of these poops.

In any case, she finds herself caught up in a murderous love triangle of which she knows naught. To soothe her nerves and sort out her feelings, she decides to draw a bath, slip into the tub and steep. She lies there, sighs there, naked, vulnerable. Then the phone rings – chirps, rather – and she rises all wet and slippery to answer it . . . wholly unaware that murder is in the offing.

The trouble is, we don't really much care about this philandering billionaire glamour puss, who seems perfectly capable of taking care of herself. We don't care about her husband or lover either. The story's most compelling character, an Arab American detective (the superb British actor David Suchet), becomes a minor player here. Nevertheless, like John Williams in the Hitchcock film, Suchet commits the film's only believable crime: He steals the show.

   
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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