Film review: Perfect Murder, A

Published: Friday, June 5 1998 12:01 a.m. MDT

Uh, correct me if I'm wrong but isn't the point of remaking a song or a film is to come up with a version that's either better than the original or is so original that it can stand by itself?

This, of course, should preclude any filmmaker from trying to redo any of the classic Alfred Hitchcock thrillers.

Hollywood being what it is, however, we've already seen a slew of movies that have made that critical error, as well as films from plagiarist-director Brian DePalma that have swiped plot devices — and more — from Hitchcock's best work. (Not to mention the frightening news that "Good Will Hunting" director Gus Van Sant is going to remake the 1960 Hitchcock thriller "Psycho," using the original script but with a contemporary style and cast).

Before that, however, there's "A Perfect Murder," which purports to be an adaptation of Hitchcock's 1954 suspense-thriller "Dial M for Murder."

"Inspired" by the Frederick Knott stage play (used by Hitchcock as the basis for his film), "A Perfect Murder" has a talented director ("The Fugitive's" Andrew Davis) and a good cast. But one thing it doesn't have is a good script, and it quickly falls apart.

This unscary thriller also suffers from dreadful miscasting, not the least of which is pairing Gwyneth Paltrow and Michael Douglas as the leads.

Paltrow stars as Emily Bradford Taylor, a U.N. interpreter married to much-older, wealthy industrialist Steven Taylor (Douglas).

Emily is carrying on an affair with struggling artist David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen), which Steven soons discovers — along with David's deep dark secret (he's actually a con artist hoping to swindle some of Emily's fortune).

This leads to an uneasy alliance between the two men, culminating in a plot to murder Emily and disguise it as a home-invasion robbery.

However, Emily successfully defends herself against the intruder — and the intruder turns out to be someone other than David!

As she gradually gathers evidence about the murder plot, both David and Steven try to regain her confidence — as well as cover their tracks.

To his credit, director Davis manages to sustain some tension for most of the first hour. However, he's completely undone by the idiotic plotting of first-time screenwriter Patrick Smith Kelly, who has come up with one of the most uneventful and unsurprising endings ever.

Paltrow and Douglas have no chemistry together, and she and Mortensen, who mumbles his way through his performance, don't exactly set the screen afire with their "passion," either.

"A Perfect Murder" is rated R for violent attacks, gore, profanity, simulated sex and brief female partial nudity.