You can't judge a book by its cover – or people by first impressions. Both are truisms that I've seen play out often – in my life and in the lives of others. Excellent art work doesn't necessarily mean that the book underneath that cover is any good (or the movie behind the poster, for that matter). More importantly, when looking for a life partner, regardless of how charming the man, or alluring the woman, what's underneath is what matters in the long run – and the best way to make life-defining judgments about a potential mate will always be T-I-M-E. The problem comes in when the cover of that book is so utterly impressive that you commit to reading it, but end up regretting it – or when you go ahead and put in the time, then start to sense that you won't like that last chapter. These are the kinds of situations that become real problems for the main character in "The Perfect Guy" (PG-13, 1:40).
Leah Vaughn (Sanaa Lathan) has it all… well, most of it anyway. She has good looks, a devoted boyfriend and a great job as a lobbyist in L.A. What she doesn't have is a life-long commitment from her man. At the age of 36, and after two years of dating Dave (Morris Chestnut), Leah decides that she's tired of waiting for him to decide when he's ready to marry her and start a family. She tells Dave to leave, and again finds herself alone, but not for long. She meets another very eligible bachelor, but this one seems to know exactly what he wants. Carter Duncan comes off as charming, kind and generous as he is good-looking and sexy. He quickly earns Leah's affections, impresses her friends (Rutina Wesley and Kathryn Morris) and wins over her father (Charles S. Dutton). Carter really does seem to be the perfect guy.
Then Leah cracks open that book. Carter soon shows that, underneath his cover, he has some serious imperfections. Leah thinks it's best to close the book on this initially very promising relationship. Carter doesn't quite accept her decision. Harassment, stalking and some very creepy behavior follows. Then, Dave re-enters the picture. He asks for, and gets, another chance at being Leah's forever man. Carter likes this development even less than the restraining order that Leah sent his way. Now we have a full-blown love triangle – and one of these men turns out to be full-blown crazy. A sympathetic police detective (Holt McCallany) does everything he can to protect Leah, and her neighbor (Tess Harper) looks out for her, but Leah ends up having to figure a way out of her situation mostly by herself.
"The Perfect Guy" is formulaic, fairly predictable – and fun. We've seen this basic story in "Fatal Attraction" (1987), "Sleeping with the Enemy" (1991), "Double Jeopardy" (1999), "Enough" (2002), etc., all the way up to 2015's "The Boy Next Door" and beyond, but this one earns its place among those earlier films. The dialog is crisp and real and, for a nice change, the script doesn't portray the cops as indifferent and powerless (although some moviegoers may feel that the extent to which one detective helps Leah sends a dangerous message). This film nicely updates the genre by showing the very real perils of being a stalk-ee in the early 21st century. Rarely have an obsessed lover's actions been more unsettling, more intrusive and more frightening than in this film. For her part, Leah's dignity, spirit and resourcefulness are also very impressive. A very solid supporting cast back up the excellent performances of the three main characters, and all three are also pretty easy on the eye. (Plus, it's nice to see more ethnic diversity in the thriller genre.) "The Perfect Guy" may not be a perfectly original movie, but its appealing cast, smart script and well-constructed story make it worth a look. "B+"