I saw Andrew Niccol’s film of the Stephenie Meyer novel The Host at 11 a.m. on Good Friday morning. When the house lights finally went up, one of my companions asked me, “Did we miss Easter?” I understood exactly how he felt, because, yes, it really was that slow and boring. Let me put it this way — it is not only worse than the new Tyler Perry movie, it is worse than the entire Twilight series. Pause for a moment to let the enormity of that statement sink in. This is not the first time that Meyer’s muddled prose has dragged an interesting director to his artistic doom — just look at Bill Condon with those two Twilight movies. (Condon at least maintained a modicum of style and can’t be blamed for writing the screenplay.) Niccol, on the other hand, penned the script for the amassed stupidity on display here, so there’s really no one else to blame. I do, however, think the woman’s books should carry some kind of creative health caution like “Warning: Translating this sludge to film causes artistic mediocrity, brain silting and personal embarrassment. Put the book down now and seek treatment for possible contamination.”
Of course, I realize that neither the book nor the film is aimed at me. They are both aimed at hormonal teenagers who like to imagine themselves as dreamy girls being lusted after by two hunky guys. (Actually, I know some adults — not necessarily female — who harbor similar fantasies, but Meyer shows no evidence of understanding this.) It’s aimed at folks who don’t burst out laughing at lines like, “Kiss me like you want me to slap you.” Here we have Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan, who should have known better) as one of the few remaining humans who has not been taken over by aliens (the outer space kind) called “Souls” who are inserted into human bodies, wipe their brains, make their eyes light up and exploits them. Melanie, being a plucky heroine type, manages to fend off — or at least insist on coexisting with — an alien named “The Wanderer” when it’s implanted in her. (Since these creatures — they look like a cross between one of the hairier molds and a fiber-optic art kit gone wrong — have to be implanted by a surgical procedure performed by co-opted humans, you’re left wondering how this started in the first place.)
This whole split-personality jazz with Melanie/The Wanderer provides a good deal of unintentional amusement since it requires Ronan to argue with the voice in her head. And, yeah, that’s as unworkable as it sounds, even though only The Wanderer speaks while Melanie is relegated to a voice-over (which comes from the rear speakers in the theater). Well, Diane Kruger as The Seeker (whether she’s been searching low and high or playing Quidditch is never addressed) is having none of this and is about to swap out bodies when our ill-matched duo take it on the lam. Despite being pursued by seeker types in chrome-plated Lotus sports cars (the Souls are apparently dazzled by anything shiny), our heroine makes it to her Uncle Jeb’s (William Hurt) last outpost of humanity — a kind of hippie commune inside a disused volcano that appears to contain sets left over from Norman Jewison’s film of Jesus Christ Superstar (1973).
Of course, Melanie’s LED eyes give her away and she has one heck of a time explaining that she still exists inside this infested body. In fact, she narrowly escapes execution, but having done so, she ends up with her old boyfriend (Max Irons) still after her and another strapping lad (Jake Abel) all a-dither over The Wanderer (now idiotically rechristened “Wanda” by Uncle Jeb). Of course, a nice ménage would sort this threesome (or is it foursome?) out, but that’s not even a consideration in young adult fiction, I guess. And anyway, The Seeker is still out there trying to destroy what’s left of humanity, and the commune is busy raising wheat, so this heartthrob stuff has to take a back seat. It slowly works its way to a conclusion — aspects of which cannot even be tortured into making any narrative sense — that leaves the story open for sequels that probably won’t happen after a lackluster opening weekend. At least, I hope they won’t. Rated PG-13 for some sensuality and violence.
Playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande