The Perfect Host Dir. Nick Tomnay

[Magnolia; 2011]

Styles: thriller, suspense
Others: The Stepfather, Sleuth

It’s amazing that David Hyde Pierce hasn’t played a psychopath before now. One of the few differences between his highstrung Niles on Frasier and American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman is the latter’s relative ability to hide his neurotic anxiety and repressed fury. For that alone, his performance in The Perfect Host will feel like an overdue delight for viewers, even if everyone else involved in the film doesn’t approach Pierce’s level of charm and inspiration.

The film starts strongly, with gun-toting fugitive John Taylor (Clayne Crawford) tossing evidence in dumpsters, interrupting a convenience store holdup, and eventually worming his way into the home of neat-freak Warwick Wilson, who’s preparing for a dinner party (Pierce). These initial scenes are unpredictable and active, especially as we realize that the violent trespasser may be the endangered one. Disappointingly, the increasingly eccentric action is eventually interrupted by dull flashbacks of Taylor’s crime and police HQ interludes that seem to provide little of expository value. These scenes turn out to be key to the plot, but only because the film is an overknotted noir with double and triple crosses, rather than the tight psycho-thriller it initially seems. That Crawford is such a bland brooder, more Skeet Ulrich than Johnny Depp, doesn’t help. Most of the audience will probably want to know more about the hallucinating bon vivant serving wine to an empty room, not the poor man’s Emile Hirsch he’s tied to a chair.

Clumsy post-production also undercuts the film’s energy: most indie films are shot before musical rights are scored, but would it have been too much to find a song for the conga line sequence that one would actually conga too? Director Nick Tomnay has some inspired moments where reality and Warwick’s fantasy world collide, like when the host crawls across the table to threaten his captive, his other “guests” oblivious to his bad manners. But that kind of visual wit is disappointingly rare, with attention paid instead to plot twists that render everyone’s motivations either arbitrary or idiotic. Although still entertaining, it’s possible the film will wind up most valuable on Pierce’s reel, setting up him for a higher-profile turn as a creepazoid, which the producers of The Perfect Host can then exploit with a new DVD cover.

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