Sometimes you just shouldn't mess with perfection - or even near-perfection.
That's probably why the makers of "A Perfect Murder" are taking great pains to say that their movie is not a remake of the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock classic "Dial M for Murder," but an update of Frederick Knott's source play.
But it would be hard to say that this very '90s movie is closer to the spirit of the play, so the promoters are probably just trying hard not to draw comparisons by which they will suffer.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays Emily Bradford, the ultimate trophy wife of high-powered Wall Street trader Steven Taylor (Michael Douglas). Emily is a UN translator and the heir to old money; unfortunately, she's also slumming with David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen), a struggling and, naturally, sensitive artist.
Even more unfortunately, Steven knows what his wife is doing on her lunch hours - and with whom.
In fact, he knows more about that subject than Emily does. It seems David is a fugitive con artist who specializes in rich, neglected women. So Steven blackmails David into making a killing, literally and figuratively. If he kills Emily, he can walk away with half a million dollars.
Steven even has a detailed, perfect plan to make it look as though Emily was killed by a burglar. But there is no such thing as "A Perfect Murder," and when the plan goes awry, much plotting and counterplotting follows.
For the first half of the film, director Andrew Davis ("The Fugitive"), like Hitchcock, builds the suspense inexorably as the staged murder approaches. However, things just as gradually fall apart thereafter, half, until a stupid, standard action finish that is extremely anticlimactic.
Unlike the Hitchcock version (which Knott adapted for the screen), the ingenious plotting and attention to detail are lost in movie trickery and red herrings that don't hold up to scrutiny. The biggest problem, though, is that we have little rooting interest in the characters.
Paltrow may be no Grace Kelly (who is?), but the problem is the writing, not her acting. Emily seems to choose her men solely on the basis of chin dimples, and does things that make those women who go into the basement in old horror movies seem like tactical geniuses.
Since David is just another con man - and way out of his league - the only interesting person left is Steven. Douglas is superb as the cold-blooded husband who can casually plot a murder with his wife's lover, and then listen impassively on the telephone as he thinks he is hearing her die.
After a while, when he becomes the only character with drive or imagination, (or any good lines) it's tempting to root for him.
David Suchet makes a nice entrance as detective Mohamed Karaman, and we anticipate his taking charge in John Williams' brilliant cop role, but he disappointingly fades into the woodwork as soon as Steven's alibi holds up.
"A Perfect Murder" adds adultery, an extra player in the cat-and-mouse chase and explicit violence to the original. Unfortunately, it has only half the smarts.