A remake of the entertaining Alfred Hitchcock potboiler “Dial M for Murder” (1954), “A Perfect Murder” has been directed, by Andrew Davis (“The Fugitive”), in a style that might be described as mid-period Adrian Lyne; the film could just as well have been titled “Indecently Attractive Fatal Proposal.” The cocktail glasses clink seductively, the overhead lights seem to melt people’s faces to pure cream and shadow, and much of the action takes place in the sort of ridiculously spacious, marble-glam, priceless-art-object-strewn apartment that looks like a posh mausoleum for its own inhabitants. Michael Douglas plays millionaire industrialist Steven Taylor, who figures out that his gorgeous young wife, Emily (Gwyneth Paltrow), is having an affair with a sexy, long-haired, dangerously unshaven artist, David Shaw (Viggo Mortenson). Why, exactly, has she strayed? Whatever the reason might have been in the script, it now comes down to this: Michael Douglas is an angry lizard, and anyone married to him will want a break from massaging his scales.
Taylor pays a visit to Shaw’s paint-spattered dark loft and confronts his rival with a surprise offer: He’ll pay Shaw half a million dollars to murder Emily. The fact that Taylor would relish the chance to snuff not the man who was sleeping with his wife but the loved one herself appears to grow out of the ugliest side of Douglas’ gargoyle grin.
Paltrow, with bright red lips and skin that’s almost as blond as her hair, seems color-coordinated to the film’s mood of commodified malice. After the murder attempt goes horribly awry – the bloody encounter itself is scary in a garish, high-exploitation way – David Suchet, looking like the Middle Eastern ghost of Columbo, shows up as a hawkish New York detective. Eagerly, we sit back to watch Taylor try and sleaze out of his actions. But the investigation is merely a sideshow. Shaw the starving artist turns out to be a bigger manipulator than we thought, and the film becomes a game of competing male creeps, with Paltrow doing her best to enact the spiritual agony of a stalked trophy wife.
Hitchcock could stage this sort of material in a fleet, silvery way in part because the restrictions of the era forced suggestiveness upon filmmakers. Now, with everything out in the open, the sheer brutality of the conniving overwhelms any sense of crushed romanticism. I’ve seen far worse thrillers than “A Perfect Murder,” but the movie is finally more competent than it is pleasurable. All that lingers from it is the color of money.