Friday, December 9, 2011

One A Week Reviews #49: The Perfect Host

To tell too much about the plot of The Perfect Host is to spoil it. The basic setup is that thief-on-the-run John gets much more than he bargained for hiding out at Warwick Wilson's lovely LA home. He starts pulling a con but winds up the guest of honor. Between conga lines, cocktails, and even chess it winds up being a very unusual evening.

A showcase for David Hyde Pierce, he's roundly excellent as Warwick, and the star attraction here. That WASP-y, patrician poise he's famous for balances with suspense, surprise, and moments of violence. He's also clearly having a great deal of fun as his character constantly turns on a dime, going from one extreme to another. The goodwill he won over a decade as "Niles Crane" isn't at all the baggage one might expect, though Warwick at first seems quite similar. This, however, makes his character's personality changes throughout the story seem like a case of "trying too hard to butch up."

(Stay for the party: Read on!)

Clayne Crawford plays John, the other lead. He does alright at holding his own, though as a foil to the over-the-top twists and turns of Pierce's performance he can really only play "straight man." In fact, he gets some nice, nuanced moments. Flashbacks to how he wound up in this situation and the police hunt for him break up the flow of the party. They're necessary. Otherwise the lunacy of the party would probably seem one note and stagey. (The dance sequence to "Car Wash"alone is worth your price of admission.) 

The post-party third act has some nice turns and opens up the scope of the story beyond Wilson's house. It's slightly different tone wise and goes in a surprising direction, but wasn't predictable. It also opens up the scope of what would otherwise almost feel like an adapted stage play.

Helen Reddy, who was such a memorable lead in Pete's Dragon (and my beloved Airport 1975) yet never really did much else in film, turns up here as Cathy, the next door neighbor. I always found her speaking voice as marvelous as her singing, and it's welcome to see and hear her again. It's not perfect but I enjoyed The Perfect Host. However, I recommend you go in as cold as possible. Knowing too much about it spoils the fun.

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