“The Perfect Guy” is the latest in a seemingly never-ending stream of endangered woman movies. You know the ones. The female lead feels like she has found the man of her dreams. He acts like a charm school valedictorian at the beginning of the relationship. She rushes head-on into a courtship and presumably happy ending. But then she never notices his subtle, ominous glances toward the audience throughout the picture and discovers, 30 minutes later than the people watching the movie, that her prince charming is, in fact, a frog wielding a butcher’s knife.
From 1991’s Julia Roberts film “Sleeping With the Enemy” to this year’s Jennifer Lopez film “The Boy Next Door,” the lover who turns out to be a homicidal maniac is so over-used that Hollywood probably has developed Mad Libs books for their screenplays by now to save time when writing the script. This is especially disheartening in the case of “The Perfect Guy,” because the movie’s cast is so talented and capable of so much more that it’s a travesty to see them reduced to preforming in this bland, unimaginative slog.
The film focuses on successful lobbyist Leah Vaughn (Sanaa Lathan), who breaks up with her live-in boyfriend Dave (Morris Chestnut), because he refuses to marry her after their two years of dating. She argues that she is 35 and wants to settle down, but he contends that marriages beget divorces and refuses to propose. Afterward, she decides to jump head-first into a steamy affair with a suave stranger named Carter (Michael Ealy), which leads to the inevitable.
One of the flaws with the film is its impatience. The events that take place are supposed to unfold over the course of a few months, but it feels more like a couple of weeks. The movie doesn’t to depict a single substantive, thoughtful conversation between Lathan and Ealy during their courtship beyond dialogue relevant to the plot (like Carter’s childhood spent bouncing from one foster family to another). Thus, when they express their love for each other after a few scenes, it seems more motivated by their loins than any real emotional connection.
This is important, because for this type of film to work, the audience needs to understand both why such a smart, thoughtful and intelligent woman would be so easily sucked in by a mere pretty face. We also need to grasp the nature of Carter’s psychosis, so that there are dimensions beyond it other than surfacing merely when the plot requires it.
However, the movie doesn’t bother with such subtleties and proceeds head-on into the thriller elements that these films are primarily about anyway. A real missed opportunity comes when, a few weeks into their courtship, Leah takes Carter to meet her parents in San Francisco. Her father Roger (Charles S. Dutton) is depicted as protective and highly critical of any man that his daughter brings home. He is so protective, in fact, that in one of the film’s more laughable ‘plotholes’ it is discovered that Leah never brought ex-boyfriend Dave home to meet her parents during their entire two year courtship; however, Carter apparently has done enough in a few dates to warrant the invite.
There are no substantive conversations between the two men about Carter’s intentions with his daughter (which really would have saved everyone involved a lot of time) and he is apparently won over by two tickets to see his favorite baseball team. It doesn’t make sense that Roger would have fallen for such an obvious ploy and if he would, why did Leah not bring Dave to meet him? It would seem like his defenses had a pretty obvious point of attack.
Eventually Leah finds out that Carter isn’t what he says he is after he violently assaults a mechanic who asks Leah about his vehicle. This incident leads to no repercussions for Carter, as he is allowed to walk away completely unscathed and uncharged. It only serves as a moment of epiphany for Leah, who suddenly realizes that maybe she should have pressed him a bit more about his childhood in foster care, seeing as how it was clearly a source of his rage.
She breaks things off with him, but he doesn’t take no for an answer and this is the point where the film shifts into stalker mellow drama. Carter basically just becomes your typical bad guy chasing our heroine, stalking our heroine and popping up coincidentally at every opportunity so the film can get in its allotted jump scare quota.
In one scene, a woman being pursued by the titular perfect guy runs into her house and locks her door. Carter bangs on the door before leaving. After a few seconds and the woman’s inevitable premature sigh of relief, Carter pops up behind her inside the house without any indication of how he actually got in there.
There are several more holes in the plot, including the film’s complete lack of concern about Leah’s future in the final scene and it’s utterly shameless “resolution” that involves a home protection plot so ridiculous Kevin McCallister in “Home Alone” would find it far-fetched.
“The Perfect Guy” is a bad movie, but it’s the film’s lack of ambition and desire to be anything more than a cheap exploitation film that is the real sin. We’ve seen Lathan be funny, sexy and strong in movies like “Love and Basketball” and the underrated “Brown Sugar.” We’ve seen Ealy and Chestnut show range in “Margaret” and “Boyz N Tha Hood,” respectively. But in this film, under the direction of David M. Rosenthal — a man whose filmography shows little range nor depth — they are lost at sea without a true directorial vision to guide them.