Imperfect ‘Host’ Serves Mediocre Dish

A Movie Review by Joey Nolfi

Originally Published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The opening of “The Perfect Host” introduces a criminal who knows exactly what he’s doing.

John Taylor (Clayne Crawford) is hot off a heist. He’s stolen $300,000 from a bank and is on the run. He removes a wig and sunglasses, tosses his escape vehicle (an unlikely bicycle) into a dumpster, and coolly rejoins the populace on the streets.

The cops won’t find him in one of Los Angeles’ ritzy mansions, he thinks. So he’ll smooth talk his way into the homes of one of Los Angeles’ most exclusive neighborhoods.

But, he can’t even fool his first would-be victim, a churchgoing lady living by herself. “Can I please use your phone? I’m a Jehovah’s witness, too,” he tells her after noticing a religious symbol in her window. She points out that he is not wearing a cross. “Perhaps you’ll get a new one next Christmas,” she says, testing him. “Yeah, hopefully,” he replies. He is blind to the error, his charm wearing off as his guilt pecks away.

His next attempt yields a drastically different outcome. Warwick Wilson (David Hyde Pierce of “Frasier” fame) is a much easier target. A wealthy bachelor with antique furnishings, a flair for fine wine, and the most feline of physical gestures, which reek of sexual ambiguity. Warwick is a pip-squeak but also an accomplished BS-er. John meets his match in more ways than one.

Warwick turns out to be a criminal of sorts as well, with “plans” for the thief he intentionally lets into his home. To say anything more would spoil the film’s “surprise,” which ultimately ends up as not that, well, surprising. Let’s just say things get violent. That’s always enticing.

The film’s first act functions as a ping-pong match between two fantastic performances, its leads keeping the tension thick between two characters constantly one-upping the other. The journey to the film’s conclusion, however, includes an ambitious (but uneven) display of musical numbers and sadomasochistic sexual exploits, which Warwick partakes of with countless “personalities” existing in his head and invisible to John.

Both men are criminals, which expertly creates no clear side for the audience to take. Warwick’s psychological disorder is demonized as is John’s brash, gritty insensitivity. That is, until the film lamely gives John’s actions moral justification. Things get sappy and ultimately less fun.

The film’s ambiguous depiction of its leads is enticing before this revelation. After it, however, the film dives into shallow “good vs. evil” water. The audience is forced to tread water there throughout the film’s final act, but it becomes entirely too frustrating when the ship boarded sails away in a different direction

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