It's a minor moment in a forgettable movie, but there's a scene playing in your local cinema that should be spurring debate and discussion. It isn't, and therein lies a tale.
David M. Rosenthal's The Perfect Guy had a $26 million opening last weekend, making it the number 1 movie in the country. It will more than likely fade quickly as the prestigious Oscar contenders begin appearing next week, but it will have filled its role, providing 100 minutes of modest suspense and titillation.
The movie has been roasted by most critics, and there's plenty to complain about. It is a derivative stalker movie, recalling everything from Unlawful Entry to last year's No Good Deed. In The Perfect Guy, successful career woman Leah (Sanaa Lathan) is frustrated with her Greek god boyfriend Dave (Morris Chestnut) because he won't take the commitment plunge. They break up and she falls for the stunningly beautiful Carter (Michael Ealy), the titular "perfect guy." Carter's possessive obsession leads to violence, murder and some creepy moments with a toothbrush.
I take a somewhat more charitable view of the whole project. The screenwriters had a tough task on their hands, having to craft a breakup and a new romance, which starts all rosy and then turns chilling, in rather short order. For the first half hour - the best part of the movie - they manage this rather effectively. Unfortunately, once Carter turns psycho around the midpoint, they resort to plot devices that either make little sense (high powered Leah walking through the empty parking garage late at night when she is already in fear for her safety) or play as clichés (friend and neighbor Mrs. McCarthy (Tess Harper) plays the exact same role that Leslie Bibb played in No Good Deed, that of friendly fodder.)
The movie also has a strong lead presence in Lathan. She does not have a great role to play for most of this, because she is a victim until the end. But she has the ability to be both better looking than the rest of us while still seeming normal and believable. When she does begin to fight back late in the movie, she actually looks rather bedraggled, which is a good thing.
But, as I said, I suspect the pluses and minuses of this movie will be soon forgotten. And then there's this:
Late in the second act of the story, Carter's obsession has turned violent, and a fearful Leah has turned to the police for help. The sympathetic Detective Hansen (Holt McCallany) believes Leah and wants to help, but Carter is smart and he doesn't leave many openings. Leah gets a restraining order. Hansen brings in Carter for questioning and tries to rattle him. But Carter won't rattle. He turns more and more violent.
So a desperate woman and a frustrated cop are at a crossroads. The decision they make together will determine the third act of the movie. But before we get to that climax, there is a brief scene in a police interrogation room. Before he goes in to question Carter yet again, Hansen tells his associate to switch off the video monitors that record the session. We know something is up. Hansen will threaten and cajole. He will play a psychological game with Carter. But none of his tactics get him anywhere. And so, as he is allowing Carter to leave the room, Hansen punches him in the gut and slams his face into the wall. Then he says something about "being more careful."
If we lived in a genuine post-racial society, this scene might have certain connotations about law enforcement. But we do not live in a post-racial society. I have not mentioned the races of the characters to this point because the movie steadfastly avoids racial issues. Carter, Leah, and Dave are black. Hansen, and every other significant character in the movie, with the exception of one of Leah's friends, is white. A white police officer, switching off video cameras so he can punch a black suspect, should matter.
But we are not likely to complain. The film intends for us not to complain. Carter is evil. He deserves punishment. Hansen is a good guy who is trying to protect Leah. We want Leah protected. We are likely to feel good when Carter gets roughed up.
Which raises the question: are we OK with police beating up, and perhaps even murdering, bad guys? Maybe we are, provided we are absolutely certain they are in fact bad guys, as we know Carter to be. But if recent events have taught us anything, we should know that we are never certain. Even when the cameras are on, we never know for sure what is happening. And when those cameras turn off, truth vanishes in the breeze.
The Perfect Guy is not concerned with this issue in the least. There is no consideration of Hansen's actions. He's a supporting player. It's just a derivative, poorly-reviewed suspense movie after all.
Which had a 26 million dollar opening weekend. In the wake of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the fact that such a movie can contain a scene in which an unarmed black man is beaten while in police custody and there's barely ripple -- that means something.
I just wish I knew what it was.