‘The Perfect Host’: Regrets, only

June 28, 2011

Nobody’s perfect, least of all “The Perfect Host,” a thriller that quickly spins out of control, despite a daring performance by David Hyde Pierce in the title role.

He plays Warwick Wilson, a guy with a house in the Hollywood Hills who is interrupted by the doorbell one evening while preparing for a dinner party. The security camera and intercom reveal that it’s a stranger named John (Clayne Crawford), who says he is a friend of a friend in a spot of trouble: He’s come to town to stay with another friend – but he was just mugged. And the friend he’s visiting doesn’t answer his phone. So he’s throwing himself on Warwick’s mercy – as a friend of a friend – to let him chill until he can make other arrangements.

The viewer, however, knows that, in fact, John is a bank robber on the run. He’s stashed the cash in a blind drop – and dumped his own car when he realized the cops had its description. In short order, he’s overpowered Warwick and declared his intentions to kill Warwick unless he lets John hide out until the next morning.

It’s at this point that writer-director Nick Tomnay plays his sole trump card, allowing Warwick to turn the tables on John and take him prisoner. Gradually John figures out that, in fact, harmless, effeminate-seeming Warwick may actually be a serial killer – and that John is on-deck to be his next victim.

Then Tomnay overplays his hand, as Warwick goes through with his dinner party – with a group of imaginary friends. We cut back and forth between the party Warwick sees in his mind and the reality that confronts the woozy John: Warwick, dancing, chatting and otherwise interacting with people who only exist in his imagination.

It’s a stylistic leap, even a daring one, but it never quite works. Suddenly we’re supposed to question just how canny and tuned-in Warwick really is – and whether John now has a shot at using that distraction to escape.

At which point Tomnay drives this particular crazy train right off the rails with a plot turn the average viewer will have a hard time swallowing. From that point, it’s a matter of waiting for the movie to end because your patience with Tomnay’s tricks will be long gone.

Which is too bad because, for a while, this seems to be a clever thriller, a cat-and-mouse game with the apparent cat and mouse switching places. Crawford is a serviceable actor but Pierce is eye-opening, fully committed to a guy who should have been committed a long time ago.

Unfortunately, “The Perfect Host” loses itself in a maze of plot twists that ultimately lead to a dead end.

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