A PERFECT MURDER. Warner Brothers, 1998. Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, Viggo Mortensen, David Suchet, Sarita Choudhury, Constance Towers. Based on the play “Dial M for Murder” by Frederick Knott. Director: Andrew Davis.

   As the credits say, the screenplay was based on “Dial M for Murder,” and of course it then goes without saying that the play was previously filmed by none other than Alfred Hitchcock), and yes, I know. I said it anyway. I haven’t seen the earlier film since I was 12, so there is nothing in what follows that should in no way be taken as a comparison of one versus the other.

   So. To begin with, they couldn’t have cast anyone more perfect than Michael Douglas to play Steven Taylor, the wealthy investment banker (the words slimy, cold and reptilian also come to mind) who finds that his equally rich wife (equally well cast and played by a most delectable Gwyneth Paltrow) is cheating on him.

   And with all his margin calls coming due, what does Mr. Taylor do? He hires his wife’s lover (Viggo Mortensen), using a bit of very coercive blackmail, to kill his wife. It seems that the lover’s background is very shady himself, providing Taylor (Douglas) with the outline of a perfect plan, one fine tuned to the smallest detail, except for one thing, otherwise there wouldn’t be a movie.

   Right now I’m on the fence as to how much I should tell you, but I figure that you know that no one as lovely and innocent (or is she?) as Gwyneth Paltrow will be killed. What follows is an almost perfect example of cat-and-mouse playing, with all three major characters as major participants. Of these, Virgo Mortensen has the most challenging role. He is convincing as Paltrow’s lover, then equally so as her husband’s willing accomplice (more or less). Willing, that is.

   I don’t know how I managed to miss this the first time around. This is my kind of movie. I discovered it earlier this week taped many years ago off one of the premium movie channels (and I mean tape) and never watched by me until now. The story is extremely clever, one of those intricate set-up stories they don’t seem to make any more. Perhaps because it’s too difficult to do.

   The first two thirds of the movie are very well done, even to the extent of being overdone (e.g., the lingering shot of the roast beef in the oven), but by movie’s end, I had more questions than I had answers.

   I hate it when that happens. With just a little more care in the details, the movie could have been perfect. As is, no. There’s a lot to like, especially the ending, but an well-constructed murder mystery like this one has to be perfect from beginning to end, and in between as well.