Saturday, May 28, 2016


Howdy fellow film freaks, Robert here. Typecasting can be the end of an actor's career; getting inseparably linked with a character can make it very difficult to find new work after the project that made that actor famous has ended. One solution, should the opportunity arise, is to take a role that's so different from the one they are best known for that it destroys the connection. Sometimes it backfires, as in the case of Elizabeth Berkeley and Showgirls. Sometimes it works too well, a la Matt Smith in Lost River. And occasionally it poisons the well just enough that you never look at that actor's most famous character the same way again. 2010's The Perfect Host does this for its star, David Hyde-Pierce, best known as Niles Crane, the brother of Frasier Crane in Kelsey Grammar's Cheers spinoff.

The Perfect Host falls into that broad and somewhat nebulous film category of "Thrillers", not quite gory enough to be considered Horror (there's actually very little blood at all), not straight-laced enough to be a Drama. With a plot that's part A Beautiful Mind, part Catch Me if You Can, and flavored with echoes of Reservoir Dogs and just a touch of Psycho, The Perfect Host is the story of a two-bit crook, a sweet and slightly prissy little man, and a dinner party.

Relating the actual details of the story without spoiling it will be difficult. This movie has a metric ton of suprises for the first-time viewer. But relate them I must, if only to explain why I would mention this movie in the same paragraph as so many sacred cows. John Taylor (TV's Clayne Crawford), has just robbed a bank; in the course of things we'll learn that he and his accomplice made off with a pretty good haul. But as movie heists often do, this one went a bit pear-shaped. John has gotten separated from his accomplice (naturally said accomplice made off with the loot), and our story opens with John wandering the streets of darkest Los Angeles looking for a place to lay low until the heat dies down. He's not having much luck, and he's getting desperate.

In his desperation, John tries to bluff his way into people's homes, posing as the victim of a mugging. It doesn't work out, until he comes across the home of Warwick Wilson (David Hyde-Pierce), who invites him into his house. Warwick is in the middle of preparing a dinner party, and it's at this dinner party that "Normal" goes out the window. None of the party guests actually exist, and Warwick himself isn't as gentle and unassuming as he seems.

So, there's your explanation for my comparisons. This movie reminds me of Reservoir Dogs because while a robbery figures into the plot, we never get to see the robbery occur. And I compare this movie to Psycho, because Warwick has something very important in common with Norman Bates: he's so totally disarming. What made Norman Bates such a terrifying figure is that he seems like such a nice guy, right up to the point when he's stabbing you to death in the shower. Warwick Wilson, meanwhile, is basically Niles Crane revisited: a congenial, if somewhat anal-retentive figure that you just can't help but like. Even after his secret is revealed, his character doesn't change. Every time Warwick goes off the rails, he'll win you back over a few minutes later.

Clayne Crawford, meanwhile, as the crook having an exceptionally bad day, proves the old theater saw that there are no small parts, just small actors. Once he falls into David Hyde-Pierce's web of looniness, the film doesn't give him a whole lot to do, apart from a couple of brief moments. He exists primarily as a foil for Hyde-Pierce to play off of, and Hyde-Pierce seizes every opportunity with gusto. But he never feels like a just a piece of scenery.

The real strength of this film is in its intimacy. The story mostly focuses on John's point of view, occasionally switching over to Warwick's to remind us just how far removed from the norm his mind is. Even later, when other (real) characters are introduced, they play minor roles; this is the story of John and Warwick, and the lively 24 hours when they inhabited each others' orbits.

The Perfect Host is a weird, funny, sad, endearing movie that never quite goes full-on dark, with enough twists to keep you from ever being quite sure what's going on until the very end. While it's not without its plot holes, and the ending doesn't quite resolve the remaining conflict, it's still a lot of fun, and a party I'll happily go to again.

The Perfect Host is rated R for language, some violent content and brief sexual material.

Robert's score: 7/10 

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