Review: ‘The Perfect Host’

Will Leitch
The Projector

1. I think everyone who writes about movies, or cares about movies, or just imagined being famous when they were a kid, wanted to make a movie at some point. These movies were never slice-of-life metanarratives, or modest little comedies of manners. No, they were big and ambitious and awesome. Maybe they were action films where we were Rambo, jumping out of the bushes and blowing away bad guys. Or maybe they were crime dramas with mobsters and rat-a-tat-tat Tommy guns. Or maybe there was a princess meeting her true love or something. The point is that they were ambitious and sweeping and exciting and made without a shred of cynicism or a self-referential nature or competition or even the notion that anyone else would ever see them. They were made because we personally thought they would be cool. They were also, without question, pretty terrible.

2. Thus, "The Perfect Host." I don't know anything about Nick Tomnay, the writer, director and editor, but man, do I admire his desire to make movies. ("The Perfect Host" is actually a full-length version of a short he did a decade ago.) The man is obsessed with blowing your mind with kick-ass! plot twists and brain-erasin'! shocks! There isn't much that makes sense in "The Perfect Host," and just when you think something is close to making sense, it turns on a dime to do something NUTS again, just to blow your mind again. This is a lousy, bird-brained movie with a terrific performance at its center, but I still wouldn't mind watching it again. It's rare to see having so much fun with something so silly.

3. The terrific performance in "The Perfect Host" belongs to David Hyde Pierce, Niles from "Frasier," an actor I wasn't even aware was working anymore. (He's been mostly on stage since "Frasier.") He plays Warwick, a man who is sitting at home by himself one night, planning a dinner party, when an on-the-lam criminal (played by someone named Clayne Crawford, and let me tell you, the man certainly looks like a Clayne Crawford) breaks into his home and takes him hostage. The criminal has picked the wrong house, to say the least. Warwick turns out to be an unhinged serial killer whose dinner party guests are in fact imaginary. Next thing you know, he's taking the criminal hostage, and all hell is breaking loose.

4. That's just the second of about 45,000 turns in "The Perfect Host," and they stop making sense after that one. Tomnay just keeps throwing them at us anyway, and while I'm loathe to mention any of them, lest they be "spoilery," know that they have as much plot consistency as shaking an Etch-a-Sketch. The twists and turns are so plentiful, and so arbitrary, it almost feels like one of those experiments in which one writer is invited to add a new paragraph to an ongoing story, so something that begins with a couple at dinner ends with space aliens battling to the death with porcine humanoid mutant frogs. This might exhaust some of you, and it certainly did me, but once you realize that, oh, this movie has no rules at all, you find yourself going along with it. Well, maybe not "going along with it." But certainly less angry. It becomes freeing. Oh, now this person is a chess genius, even though that's pretty much impossible ... SWEET WHAT'S NEXT?

5. Pierce is the only reason to keep watching once the movie goes off the rails, but he's not just goofing off and having fun: He gives Warwick just enough cloudiness behind the eyes to let you see the storm within. Somehow, he invests enough in his character -- more than his director anyway -- to avoid the camp that the movie is just begging him to fall into. Pierce is having fun but respects the craft enough not to become a burlesque sideshow. Everyone else in the cast appears to have walked in off the set of a soap opera, and they might have even worked on the food carts there. But this is not the type of movie whose inherent dopiness angers or frustrates. You just sort of giggle at the kids having fun. Good for them!

Grade: C+