Movie Review: The Perfect Guy
By Ben Gruchow
September 16, 2015

Who's stalking who?

The Perfect Guy is a bad movie, but it does not stop there. Having exhausted its limited supply of oxygen as an overcooked and superficial potboiler, it consumes our remaining patience with lazy filmmaking and repellent morality. When we are not bored by the proceedings, we are dismayed by their suggestions. In a sense, this is exactly what the trailers have promised; in another, it’s less than. In no instance is it greater than.

The movie is not bad in any new or unique way; it’s mostly content to hit the same notes and repeat the same offenses of any standard-issue thriller about the saintly and all-things-to-all-people boy/girlfriend who ends up scoring far lower on the Sane-O-Meter than one’s significant other really should. Truthfully, I would not be surprised were I to learn that the movie does not, in fact, even exist - so sleepily and lifelessly does it execute the beats of this particular template.

Leah Vaughn (Sanaa Lathan) is a lobbyist who breaks up with her boyfriend David (Morris Chestnut) for reasons. Okay, it’s because her big goal in life is to have a baby and David isn’t willing to commit. Honestly, though, it doesn’t matter what the reason is. Anything sufficiently dramatic will be accepted, as long as it opens the door for Carter Duncan (Michael Ealy) to sidle in and sweep her off her feet. This he does; it is revealed that he may have a slight case of psychosis during the interminable first act of a film that is comprised of nothing but interminable acts.

The movie points to the idea of Carter being a violent psychopath, but this is a misdirection on the part of the filmmakers. Carter is clearly a warlock; there is no other possibility, given his ability to be anywhere, take anything, hack into everything. He works in IT security, which in the movies means he knows all the best ways to break into another company’s secure e-mail system, or set up an entire covert video-surveillance network in the course of one solitary nighttime visit.

When Leah witnesses him violently beat a man over a simple misunderstanding, she breaks up with him and then helpfully shuttles into damsel-in-distress mode so that she can be threatened and stalked at random times and places. The police can’t do anything because Carter is just too good at covering all of his tracks under the guise of legality, although a cursory background check - like the one undertaken a bit later on - would have produced lots of past evidence of stalking, criminal activity, what have you.

You know where this is going. If you don’t, the movie’s trailers and posters have thoughtfully provided all of this information well in advance, making the first 60 minutes of a 90-minute film into a sluggish waiting game. About the only thing we don’t know is the exact physical mechanics of where this all ends up, and those can be easily guessed if you’re so inclined. The movie’s setup provides us nothing new, but we knew that going in. What we could have hoped for was an upending of convention, a different tone or texture than what was pitched, or even a skillful technical exercise.

There exists a version of this movie where the scenery could be chewed to death by a cast who knew exactly how hopeless the screenplay really was as written. Instead, the actors make the fatal miscalculation of playing the material seriously. The result is that none of them really register; they walk into scenes to recite lines of dialogue that are baldly functional, with no particular cadence or flavor, and then they either a) exit the scene; b) stand there; c) die. It wastes the talent of actors who have already proven themselves too good for this material, by tethering them to a wooden screenplay that cheats them out of any resonance.

Movies like this are thinly-veiled cautionary exercises about the dangers of being seduced by the man/woman you don’t really know, yet who seems to be the absolute ideal. They can be done well. The problem with The Perfect Guy is not rooted in its unoriginality, but its simplemindedness. The characters have no attributes beyond those that are required for the immediate scene. There is nothing uttered or done that is thoughtful or psychologically sound or wise or even particularly provocative; nobody seems capable of the higher thought necessary.

Even Carter, IT security expert and occasional sorcerer, is reduced to stomping around and breaking things when he is challenged. You would think someone so skilled and dedicated at keeping up appearances and a clean record would have developed more discipline and control when presented with a nosy neighbor. You’d be thinking harder than the screenwriter did.

To the extent that we’re able to parse out any meaning at all from the paint-by-numbers story and screenplay, it’s pretty ugly. In a movie that allocates no time for development of its protagonist or any of the side characters, precious lines are taken to spell out Carter’s background as a foster child, and to note his unconventional upbringing, his high IQ, and his skill with computers and networks. He is by a commanding margin the most intelligent and the most unique individual in the film. Before his obligatory psychotic break, he is smooth, controlled, polite, poised. He is the only one developed beyond a line or a trait, or with a shred of brainpower, and he is the bad guy.

David is a standard-issue alpha male who does not want to be tied down, and Leah’s female friends are inconsequential ciphers. The movie gets even more emphatic later on in its suggestion that, if you’re a woman in a relationship, the best thing you can do is subjugate, remain passive and not make waves. This conservatism permeates the entire thing in various ways; the ending would seem to suggest otherwise, but all it really does is reinforce a message to gullible viewers that intelligent, technologically-literate, erudite men are far more likely to go crazy and destroy your life if you even slightly rebuke them.

If the movie has a message, that’s the message. I am aware that there’s an audience for this type of thriller, as the nearly-$30 million opening weekend would indicate. This audience is doing themselves a disservice. I am aware that abuse and harassment within the context of a relationship is a very real social issue that is underreported and too easily dismissed; this movie takes that problem and sensationalizes it into a cruddy fantasy where the potential answer is escalation and vengeance. If it’s a decent thriller you’re looking for, go see The Gift. If you’ve already seen that, see something else. Anything else will do. The Perfect Guy is rote, malnourished, dull even by the standards of September at the box office. It gives potboilers a bad name.