Somebody should show The Best and the Brightest on a double bill with The Perfect Host just to see how many gullible people are smart enough to demand their money back in the least amount of time.
This abstruse contrivance stars the competent and often amusing David Hyde Pierce as an eccentric named Warwick Wilson who is roasting a duck in preparation for an elaborate dinner party when the doorbell rings. Standing there, disheveled and bleeding, is John Taylor (Clayne Crawford), an ex-con who has been shot in a convenience store holdup after earlier the same day robbing a bank of $300,000 with the help of a conniving girlfriend who has absconded with the loot. Querulous and befuddled, Warwick takes an interest in the young man’s bloody foot and invites him in for a glass of wine. But when Warwick re-emerges in a bathrobe to entertain a group of guests who are invisible, John finds himself immersed in a scene much wilder than he anticipated. His “host” is not just eccentric, but certifiably insane!
At first, the rugged, handsome and overwhelmingly befuddled guest, who is simply biding his time until he can reach his double-crossing girlfriend on a cell phone, is entertained by his wonky host as he impeccably sets the table and arranges the wine glasses. But when the reluctant visitor is forced to watch a Super 8 home movie of the increasingly drooling Warwick’s last dinner party, at which he sliced himself open with a butcher knife, it’s time to move on. Unfortunately, he gets hog-tied to the furniture and finds himself talking to the imaginary guests (including a dead district attorney) while the addled next-door neighbor calls the police. Naturally, they refuse to pay any attention. (This is Los Angeles, don’tcha know, where, if you responded to the alarm every time a naked body sank to the bottom of a swimming pool, there would be no time for golf.)
For a while, my curiosity played along. Then The Perfect Host tanks big time when (spoiler alert) Warwick turns out to be the cop in charge of investigating the bank robbery. Huh? He has photos of John all over his wall at the precinct, but doesn’t recognize him? How is it that after John had tried to break into a number of houses for refuge, the only person with a light on who welcomes him to stay for dinner turns out to be the investigator who is looking for him? As things go haywire, in a cat-and-mouse game of con versus con, with deranged dialogue serving as empty-headed mattress stuffing to pad a one-minute idea into a 93-minute head scratcher, the movie hangs itself on its own conflagration of mechanized artifice and schematic plot maneuvers. The robber gets to the girl who has stolen the bank loot and turned him in, the “host” has somehow miraculously managed to find his way to the same parking lot where he splits the loot with his “guest,” and another detective who gets suspicious gets invited to the next dinner party. The movie goes on much too long and doesn’t make one word of sense.
Mr. Pierce is the latest in a string of TV sit-commers willing to do anything to land on the big screen in color. He has a handle on the nervous mannerisms of lip-licking, eyelid-narrowing psychos, and plays this one intriguingly. I’m happy to say Mr. Crawford matches him growl by gasp, playing the perfect mongoose to Mr. Pierce’s wily cobra. Alas, if only writer-director Nick Tomnay knew how to maximize their potential. The constant shifts of gears, twists of plot and sloppy tempos leave whole scenes anemic beyond salvation. In the final analysis, as good as the two actors are, they can’t drag this screwy, gimmick-laden movie back on track from its numerous detours. Nobody has a clue how to end it, so the whole thing just sort of fades to black. This is bargain-basement moviemaking, and looks it. Here’s wishing Mr. Pierce a vigorous movie career, and better luck next time.
THE PERFECT HOST
Running time 93 minutes
Written and directed by Nick Tomnay
Starring David Hyde Pierce,
Clayne Crawford, Nathaniel Parker