THE PERFECT HOST is not the perfect movie.
Sure, it’s entertaining, in a sugary “oh-aren’t-we-clever sort of way,” but that’s not the best recipe for a thriller, which is why, ultimately, this one simmers rather than boils.
Career criminal John Taylor (Clayne Crawford) has just robbed a bank. He’s injured, on the run, and he desperately needs a place to hide, so he cons his way into the plush home of one Warwick Wilson (David Hyde Pierce, who played Niles on TV’s FRASIER) by pretending to know one of Wilson’s friends. John got the name of the friend from a postcard in Wilson’s mail.
At first Wilson declines to invite John inside, as he’s preparing dinner for guests, but he changes his mind, saying it would be rude of him to turn away a friend of a friend. He even invites John to stay for dinner, an invitation that John grows anxious about when he learns that one of the guests is a prosecuting attorney who works for the D.A.’s office.
When news of the brazen robbery plays over the radio, John realizes his cover has been blown. He holds Wilson at knifepoint and tells him he’s going to kill him, and the only way he’s going to change his mind is if Wilson does exactly as he says. At first, Wilson appears to be terrified, but his behavior changes when John passes out, and Wilson announces that he had drugged his guest’s wine.
When John awakes, he finds that he is tied to a chair and discovers that his host is not the man he thought he was. Suddenly, it’s Wilson who’s doing the terrorizing and John who’s the victim. For a while, it seems as if Wilson is just a nutcase, but later, the plot takes several twists and turns, and we learn that there’s more to Wilson than his just being a lonely psychopath.
THE PERFECT HOST is a decent thriller that’s fun at times, but you really have to suspend disbelief to truly enjoy this one. I found its convoluted story hard to swallow, and as result I never really bought it. It’s a case where less would have been better. David Hyde Pierce makes for a perfectly creepy psycho, and had the story left it at that, it would have worked better instead of the direction the movie ultimately takes.
You see, Wilson is not just some random psycho, which makes John’s stumbling into Wilson’s home by chance such a coincidence it doesn’t work.
But the movie’s not all bad. The initial twist works, and there are a lot of fun scenes where Wilson torments John. These scenes work so well because, by far, the best part of THE PERFECT HOST is David Hyde Pierce’s performance as oddball host Warwick Wilson. He’s deliciously over the top, and he provides the movie with its best moments. He makes a great psycho, up to a point. One flaw is that he’s never as scary or as unsettling as he needs to be. While I was certainly entertained by Warwick, I was never frightened by him.
As a result, THE PERFECT HOST is not much of a thriller. It’s simply not dark enough to be taken that seriously, and it never really reaches the level of legitimate thriller. It’s rated R, but for language, as the violence here is rather tame.
And while Pierce dominates his scenes, Clayne Crawford, who stars opposite him as John, lacks the necessary intensity to be a convincing criminal. Also in the cast is Helen Reddy in a role that is about as integral to the plot as a loaf of bread.
There’s also something very cheap and low budget looking about this movie, as if it were filmed in the 1970s. I wondered if this was done on purpose by director Nick Tomnay, because one of Wilson’s idiosyncrasies is his disdain for modern technology, and he doesn’t seem to have any modern electrical devices in his home, like a computer or a flat screen television, and he takes pictures with a Polaroid camera.
Come to think of it, John doesn’t carry a cell phone, and he drives a 1980s car. Hmm. Maybe it’s director Tomnay with the idiosyncrasies!
Tomnay also wrote the script with Krishna Jones. Again, the first half of the story is fun, and I swallowed it hook, line, and sinker, but as it went on and added more plot twists, I simply stopped believing it all.
On a grander scale, THE PERFECT HOST could have been the type of movie Hitchcock would have directed in his day. There’s something very claustrophobic about the first half of the film as it takes place inside Wilson’s home, which would have suited Hitchcock just fine. But Hitchcock’s twists would have had more meat to them, and his characters would have had to suffer more angst and overcome truer obstacles than the folks in this movie.
THE PERFECT HOST has its moments—most of them provided by David Hyde Pierce—but, ultimately, it’s a light entry in the thriller genre. More entertaining than thrilling, and hindered by a plot that lacks credibility, THE PERFECT HOST would have benefitted from the perfect re-write.
© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda