Perfect Strangers (1984)

perfect strangers

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid witnesses a murder.

Johnny (Brad Rijn) is a local hit-man who knifes someone to death in a back alley. Little does he know that behind a nearby fence is a 2-year-old toddler peeking out through a small opening and witnessing the whole thing.  As Johnny is about to leave he suddenly becomes aware of the child, but as the police are coming he runs. He is connected to the mob and when he tells them of the incident they advise him that he must kill the child simply to be extra cautious. Johnny then decides to get in a relationship with the boy’s attractive single mother Sally (Anne Carlisle) with the idea that he will get close enough to her that she will trust him to be alone with the kid where he will then off him and make it look like an accident.

The child who is played by a very young actor named Matthew Stockley is extremely cute to the point of being adorable. The idea of any harm coming to him is almost unthinkable, which helps create some tension and the climatic sequence where he is chased by Johnny though an abandoned, shadowy warehouse is well done.

However, the film’s biggest weakness is the Johnny character who is too damn nice to the point that I even started to like him as the film progressed. The guy is great with the kid and shows a definite sensitive side and is reluctant to harm the child and only considers it because the rest of the mob pushes him to. This then pretty much mutes the tension and the film would have been more exciting had the character been portrayed as a cold-hearted psycho. I also found it a bit contradicting that this otherwise nice guy could so easily kill other people. The extremes in the personality didn’t connect although at one point he does at least say ‘sorry’ to one of his victims as he drags the dead body away after viciously killing him.

Carlisle is excellent. She is probably best known for starring in as well as writing the screenplay for the cult hit Liquid Sky. There she played a teenage punk, but here filmed only 2 years later she comes off as a mature full-grown woman and her effective performance helps carry the film. Otto von Wernherr who was also in that movie appears as a private eye hired to follow Johnny around.

Stephan Lack who was in Scanners and just about ruined the film with his terrible performance is surprisingly good here as an aggressive police detective who hounds Sally for answers and won’t leave her alone. Ann Magnuson is somewhat amusing as a man-hating feminist Nazi.

If writer/director Larry Cohen scores anywhere it is in his ability to vividly show the street culture and eclectic, busy atmosphere of New York City life. One bit has hundreds of woman marching down the street in an anti-rape parade and when Johnny tries to get involved in it the woman aggressively pushes him back out. Things flow enough to make it mildly entertaining, but the film lacks distinction and is ultimately forgettable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 24, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: Larco Productions

Available: DVD

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