If nothing else, The Perfect Guy boasts a clever casting hook. Michael Ealy has such a calm, confident demeanor, and such piercing blue eyes, that he makes sense as a potential romantic savior—and becomes appropriately chilling as a deranged stalker. It’s not that Carter (Ealy), the stalker in question, does anything especially memorable when his obsession with Leah (Sanaa Lathan) boils over, but he’s an inspired fit as a guy who seems too good to be true, and then is.
The whole movie, though, consists of “seems” followed quickly by “is.” Leah seems unhappy that her longtime boyfriend Dave (Morris Chestnut) doesn’t feel ready for marriage or children yet; almost immediately, they break up. Carter swoops into her life and looks like a promising romantic partner; he treats her right and dazzles her parents, in a sequence that includes a welcome and far-too-brief appearance from Charles S. Dutton. Then Carter displays a sudden flash of violence that seems like trouble, and almost immediately goes into stalker mode when Leah pulls away. Naturally, his prowess as an IT security professional comes into play as he continues to menace his ex.
The Perfect Guy could be described as concise if all of these moments didn’t also feel so perfunctory. Scene after scene exists only to deliver facts for later: Carter’s family background; the location of Leah’s spare housekey; the presence of a mildly nosy neighbor and a clumsily introduced pet cat. Plenty of well-plotted thrillers depend on a similar accumulation of details, but this one is almost all accumulation and almost zero actual thrills. And even for an uncomplicated thriller, the supporting characters lack inner depth; they behave like mannequins who come to life only when Leah and Carter enter the frame. This is especially clear in an early scene where Carter gets rid of a jerk hitting on Leah at a bar; the interaction feels utterly fake because the movie has the actor playing the jerk stand awkwardly motionless between his lines, transparently waiting for his cues.
The dissonance of watching Carter get creepier and creepier, then, is about all the movie has to offer in terms of the requisite oh-shit! realizations it’s supposed to provide. But apart from one creepy scene where Carter slips into a fog of shower steam undetected, director David M. Rosenthal doesn’t build suspense; at one point, the rapid succession of Carter’s stalking scenes practically becomes a wacky montage. It’s surprising, because Rosenthal made the patient, rural noir A Single Shot—not a great film, but one that at least conveyed a clear sense of place. The Perfect Guy offers only a return trip to underlit, glass-housed Los Angeles.
With such boring text, the movie inspires focus on its subtext, which isn’t especially rich but does pass the time as Carter creeps toward his final confrontation with Leah. At first, it seems like the movie is punishing Leah for making any demands of her relationship with Dave—and it is, a little, but Lathan and Chestnut make each of their sides seem reasonable. As the story intensifies, though, its intimations get weirder. In just a few scenes, the movie manages to casually stigmatize bipolar disorder, foster children, and high IQs, and, finally, endorses gun ownership as not just a sound method of self-defense, but possibly the only method of self-defense. It’s especially disappointing to see this reductive view applied to the likably tough Lathan, who has previously teamed up with a Predator.
Even The Perfect Guy’s regressions, though, are sadly familiar; this is Sony genre subsidiary Screen Gems’ second annual low-rent thriller starring talented black actors in the types of leading roles they should be getting in bigger, or at least better, movies. There’s certainly an audience for these thrillers, but imagine how big that audience might be for one that really works. In the meantime, to save some time and money next autumn, just picture Taye Diggs trying to murder Regina Hall, and wonder why they can’t do better.