"Kiss me like you want to get slapped." When a character comes out with this howler in "The Host," it's enough to make you wonder if writer-director Andrew Niccol -- adapting Stephenie Meyer's YA novel -- is having a laugh at someone's expense ... as in taking the money and running.
Perhaps the Oscar-nominated writer of "The Truman Show" accepted this body-snatcher disaster from the author of "Twilight" because, as the creator of "Gattaca" and "In Time," he has simply pigeonholed himself in the futuristic dystopia genre. Where there's "Twilight," there's money. And "The Host" isn't the sort of work one has to take pride in; it's more the sort of job where you work just hard enough not to get fired.
Anyway, "The Host" proposes a future in which an alien invasion has left the vast majority of Earthlings possessed by delicate-tendriled light slugs. No, really, that's the plot of "The Host." How delicate-tendriled light slugs that can fit in the palm of one's hand achieved interstellar travel and conquered, y'know, Earth, maybe they'll explain that in the prequel.
I'd say it gets better, but it doesn't. Saiorse Ronan ("The Lovely Bones") plays Melanie Stryder, an extraordinary girl strong-willed enough to resist, at least partially, light-slug-possession (quoth the light-slugs, "This one wants to live"). Which is a recipe for comedy, as it turns out, because Melanie is now the Girl with Two Brains. Thus, through the magic of voice-over, host Melanie and symbiont Wanda (short for "Wanderer") begin bickering with each other like nobody's business.
In the company of a hunky guy she happens upon (Max Irons' Jared), Melanie escapes to a desert hideaway, where Earthlings who have escaped possession try not to be found by the likes of Diane Kruger's "The Seeker." There, the film settles into dull earnestness, represented by Oscar winner William Hurt, the king of dull earnestness. He plays Melanie's Uncle Jeb, the rebel leader who has been protecting her younger brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury).
There have been few movies in the history of cinema with as much talk about kissing as "The Host" has. That's because Meyer, knowing which side her bread is buttered on, has included a love triangle. Jared loves Melanie, Melanie loves Jared, but uh oh Wanda loves tall drink of water Ian (Jake Abel). Hence, the aforementioned "kiss me like you want to get slapped" strategy, a plan to coax out a suddenly recessive personality. And so we get new candidates for the Bad Dialogue Hall of Fame, like "You hit me for kissing you ... I love you." and "Let me guess: You have two minds about it." Face palm.
"The Host" proves inept at character development and even worse at trying to develop any tension. The picture feints in the direction of philosophy: The alien "Souls" see their symbiosis as entirely natural, and instead of changing the culture of each world, they "experience it and perfect it." On Earth, they've eliminated hunger, healed the environment and ended international conflict. Of course, they've also mind-raped most of humanity into something very near brain-death, so they probably won't be winning any "Humanitarians of the Year" awards.
Do not consume "The Host" before operating heavy machinery. Fits of giggling may ensue.
Rated PG-13 for some sensuality and violence. Two hours, five minutes.
- Peter Canavese