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AMERICAN PERFEKT(director/writer: Paul Chart; cinematographer: William Wages; editor: Michael Ruscio; cast: Fairuza Balk (Alice), Robert Forster (Jake), Amanda Plummer (Sandra), David Thewlis (Santini), Paul Sorvino (Frank), Chris Sarandon (Sammy), Joanna Gleason (Shirley); Runtime: 100; A Nu Image presentation; 1997)
“The film fell too quickly into the serial-killer mode and lost the edge it never had but always wanted.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Perfekt is a psychological thriller about a psychopath, Jake Nyman (Forster), who decides someone’s fate by the toss of his silver coin. The movie’s locale is in the desert outside of Los Angeles county, where the 30-ish Sandra Thomas (Amanda Plummer-she’s the wife of the director) is going to meet her 25-year-old hitchhiking, unbalanced, hippie sister, Alice (Balk), in a place called Pear Blossom and then the two will visit their mother in Utah. But the ex-secretary for a collection agency has just been fired and is having a bad hair day, which only gets worst on the road. Sandra is driven off the road by a driver’s road rage. The driver is a British con man named Santini (Thewlis), who it turns out was just trying to signal her about something he found and was not really a madman. When her car is stalled she leaves her door open, as a speeding car crashes into her door and unhinges it. But that driver turns out to be a perfect gentleman, a criminal psychologist, from Los Angeles, who happens to be single and handsome. He stops and gives her a lift to the next roadside motel where she calls to get her car towed. She thinks she has struck it lucky and has finally met the man of her dreams. But she is only alive for the moment because he tossed a coin and she won the right to live, for a while. This Mr. Perfect turns out to be a psycho.

These four (Forster, Plummer, Thewlis, and Balk) will interconnect, with the control freak Forster holding their lives in his hands with his coin tosses. He takes everything so literal and acts in a robotic and deliberate fashion when he speaks, so that everything he does seems out of place.

Paul Sorvino, as a local sheriff, brings renewed energy to the film. He plays his role straight (thank the director for at least giving us one such real character in the film) as a small-town law officer who is more than willing to do his job. In fact the acting in the film by everyone is really fine, especially considering how thin the script was.

The film tries to be purposefully evasive about its story line and to have its tenuous story be based on chance as being the sole determinant of one’s destiny. What it eventually becomes is a predictable psycho flick. It has trapped itself into being a film without a plot, with inane dialogue, and a fake means of maintaining tension. It tries so hard to give itself a weird angle through its characterizations, which only work on a superficial level.

By the end of the film, we know only a little more about the psychopath than we did from the opening scene. I therefore wasn’t sure what the director wanted to accomplish, except he probably thought by showing how idiosyncratic all the characters were that would be enough to get it over as a spellbinding film. Plummer is the neurotic damsel-in-peril. While Forster is the split personality whose actions waver between maniacally calm reasoning to histrionic schmaltz, as he goes off the deep end.

Paul Chart showed flashes of talent here and there; for example, in the opening scene in the desert — Forster’s calm demeanor was played off beautifully against Plummer’s nervous energy and with the desert lurking as a hostile backdrop to the action. It added a thrilling surreal sense of dramatics to the story. But the film fell too quickly into the serial-killer mode and lost the edge it never had but always wanted.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”