Here's a fun game I discovered by accident: describe the plot of The Perfect Guy to somebody. Better yet, see how much of the plot they can guess just from the title. It's not hard to get most of it: the girl is dating this really swell guy, but he absolutely refuses to commit, so she dumps him. Mere seconds later, or so it seems, she's met-cute with an even sweller guy, one who's so handsome that the whole movie seems to melt whenever he flashes his smoldering eyes and quiet smile, and who impresses the ever-loving hell out of her friends and family without even the smallest effort. He is, you might go so far as to say, the Perfect Guy. Ah, but he has a violent streak, and when he takes it out on some hapless shmuck in front of our heroine, she decides to get out while the getting's good. And this turns the Perfect Guy into a Perfect Psychopath, and there will be much anguish and suffering, and much brow-furrowing from the wise but helpless cop who wishes that the system wasn't so rigged against women in trouble, but is personally powerless to do anything but suggest in elliptical terms how she can take the law into her own hands.

So far, so clichΓ©d, but that's not the game. The game is that after the person has successfully teased out everything this brutally paint-by-numbers affair has in store for its audience, you lean in and mention that there is actually one thing that makes The Perfect Guy different from a thousand movies that had largely exhausted the possibilities of their genre by the middle of the 1990s: the leads are all African-American. Then lean back and enjoy the mixture of befuddlement and disappointment and despair jockeying for position on your listener's face.

It's a cockeyed form of equality, of course, that movies about and for and written by black people can occupy the same wide range of quality as white people movies. Still, it stings that on one of the rare occasions that actors like Sanaa Lathan (as Leah Vaughn, the woman at the center of this terrifying whirlwind) and Morris Chestnut (as Dave King, the first boyfriend who comes back just in time to make the Perfectly Awful Guy really jealous) get a chance to take headlining roles in financially successful movies - The Perfect Guy is the third movie in an uninterrupted five-week stretch of films with casts dominated by African-American actors to lead the U.S. box office - they're offered such dumb, reductive roles. Lathan, in particular, is an actor of unusually potent screen presence whose filmography consists almost solely of wives and girlfriends. Here, she does a good job of playing a simpering careerist with no clear ability to hold more than one thought in her head at a time (like that's any kind of achievement), and when the film makes its inexorable shift to transforming Leah into a somewhat unlikely action figure, she puts a frazzled, pissed-off spine into her performance that gives the last scenes more of a punch than they've really earned. Still, you can make the world's most artistic, complex, accomplished McDonald's cheeseburger, and still have a McDonald's cheeseburger to show for it.

That being said, who among us has not even once had the thought, "fuck yeah, McDonald's cheeseburger", perhaps while indecently drunk? And in that spirit, let us concede that The Perfect Guy is kind of delightful in its unrelenting tackiness - also perhaps while indecently drunk, which I unfortunately was not. But I bet it would have been terrific. It's a garbage movie, absolutely and unequivocally, and Michael Ealy's performance as the perfect guy and even more perfect killing machine Carter Duncan is hypnotically mis-aimed (an uncharacteristic whiff for a charismatic actor): he's like sexy robot capable of only one form of emotional expression who then has a Westworld-style breakdown, leaving that expression intact. Watching Lathan try to force an emotional connection with him is as silly as it is inert (the only actor she really sparks with, in fact, is Holt McCallany as the gloomy cop) and the movie starts to pick up a gleeful momentum based largely around how hokey Ealy's portrayal of the seductive bad guy is.

Other things help with that: director David M. Rosenthal and editor Joan Sobel make some really baffling choices about how to assemble all of this, including but not limited to an incomprehensible, arbitrary system of fades to black every few scenes, and wobbly pacing that finds several scenes show up for a minute and then simply evaporate. Or better yet, the way those fragments of scenes contribute to a totally inscrutable internal chronology: more than once, Leah baldly declares "it's been a week!" or some such, in reference to an event that, by all appearances from the piecing-together of scenes, took place just the night before, or even that morning.

The result is a movie that's absolutely incompetent, but so very earnest in its incompetence that it's kind of sweet; endlessly tangled up in the most geriatric clichΓ©s of the erotic thriller (in this case, an erotic thriller that has been aggressively de-sexed; it's rated PG-13, and it's not a very hard PG-13 at that), but so enthusiastic in its deployment of those clichΓ©s, like it thinks it's inventing them or God knows what, that it picks up some feisty energy. In order to connect points A and B, screenwriter Tyger Williams uses the thickest, boldest-colored markers he can scrounge up, so every single emotional beat and narrative signpost brays out like all the horns in the orchestra playing the same note at once, and this contributes a feeling of uncorked melodrama that's so eager for us to play along that it's kind of hard not to.

Good? Lord, no. Successful? Eh, not really. It's pretty stupid and terrible. Damn me if it's not spunky and hectic, though. I can't say that it's really a fun time at the movies, let alone anything stronger or deeper, but it has the fearlessness of a middleweight talent show competitor who will get through this routine, by God, no matter how obviously things are falling apart. And that keeps things amusingly frantic, at least, so that's something. Something awful, but also zippy and zesty in its awfulness.