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"THE HOST"
(2013) (Saoirse Ronan, Diane Kruger) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-Fi: After alien entities have conquered Earth and taken over the bodies of most humans, a young woman finds herself trapped in her own body and fights for control over her actions all while dealing with resistance fighters who cast a wary eye on her.
PLOT:
Earth is at peace. There's no war, poverty or hunger, but that's because alien entities have conquered the planet and taken over the bodies of nearly everyone and thus control their actions and behavior. But a handful of resistance fighters are still on the run, including Melanie (SAOIRSE RONAN), her younger brother Jamie (CHANDLER CANTERBURY) and their new friend, Jared (MAX IRONS).

Wanting complete compliance, some of the aliens are assigned to find them and others and have their own kind -- that look like sparkly sea anemones -- inserted into those host bodies. The most determined is The Seeker (DIANE KRUGER) who eventually captures Melanie and puts an alien known as Wanderer into her body. The Seeker wants Wanderer to explore Melanie's memories to find other holdouts, but neither have expected Melanie's consciousness to still exist within her body.

Melanie eventually convinces Wanderer to travel to Texas to meet another alien, but she's really hoping they'll find Jamie, Jared and Melanie's uncle, Jeb (WILLIAM HURT). They eventually do, but Jeb's followers, including the likes of Jamie, Ian (JAKE ABEL) and Kyle (BOYD HOLBROOK) want to kill the alien (and thus Melanie's body as well).

Jeb senses something different with this alien and thus orders she not be harmed. Melanie tries to figure out how to connect with her family and the others while trapped inside the alien takeover, but must also contend with Ian falling for the alien who's now been nicknamed Wanda. As that plays out, they must all contend with The Seeker and others of her kind attempting to find and eradicate all of them.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
While people will likely argue until the end of time about whether viruses are living organisms or not, they're nonetheless fascinating entities. Be it the flu, the common cold or something else, they invade their hosts, use their cells to reproduce, and then go about infecting others. Other than keeping pharmaceutical companies, doctors and pharmacies in business, they serve no purpose, but they result in lots of misery and plenty of deaths year in and year out.

I couldn't help but think about colds and influenza will watching the big screen adaptation of author Stephenie Meyer's latest novel, "The Host." Contrary to what you might be thinking, that wasn't due to coughing, hacking or any other such unpleasantries from those around me in the audience. No, it's because the basic plot is about small invaders -- extraterrestrials who look like sparkly sea anemones -- who enter people's bodies and take over their lives. As in nearly everyone on Earth.

While that's resulted in a pacifistic version of communism where nearly everyone is equal, no one lies, there's no violence or hunger and people don't pay for groceries or health care, a few pesky freedom fighters are still on the run. Accordingly, some of these aliens in sheep's clothing, er, human appearance, are charged with hunting them down and thus are known as Seekers.

The main one here (played by Diane Kruger in formfitting white attire, sporting a steely demeanor and driving a shiny, futuristic Lotus) has managed to capture Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) who's been on the lam with her younger brother (Chandler Canterbury) and pseudo-boyfriend (Max Irons). With the girl now playing host to an alien known as Wanderer, the Seeker is hoping to delve into the girl's memories and find the rest of the holdouts.

The only problem is that unlike most everyone else who's been infected, Melanie's still lurking about inside her mind, thus giving Wanderer fits in accomplishing her mission while also making her experience Melanie's past emotions. All of which confuses the poor extraterrestrial and results in the two girls in one body heading out into the desert in search of the brother, boyfriend and Melanie's uncle (William Hurt) who runs a rebel stronghold deep inside a complex cave structure.

Everyone there, including other rebels such as Kyle (Boyd Holbrook), want "it" killed, but others want to give her a chance, including Ian (Jake Abel) who finds himself falling for Melanie. Or at least her body. Or the alien inside her. But Melanie (who we only hear through echoey voice-over narration that represents her thinking process) still has the hots for Jared. Holy soap opera melodrama, Batman!

Yes, from the writer of the cross-species love triangle between a girl, a vampire and a werewolf we now have a love square that's also sometimes a triangle but just ends up being plain goofy regardless of the geometry. Yes, it's possible tween and young teen girls might get caught up in all of this as they did with the "Twilight" novels and subsequently awful movies, but this scenario and its execution simply doesn't work. At least as presumably intended. If you're looking for a few laughs from the unintended camp, or are desirous of letting loose with your own "Mystery Science Theater 3000" commentary, the film might just be what the doctor ordered.

I haven't read Meyer's novel, but I can only imagine (and hope) that it works better than this cinematic adaptation. From the moment we hear the inner voice from Melanie, the film derails from its attempt to be a combo rip-off of "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" mixed with "All of Me," and heads down the path of unintentional laughs. Even Kruger can't save the day as the antagonist as she might be one of the most boring hunter villains put on screen in years, while one can only remember all of the far better films Hurt once starred in.

At least Ronan creates a semblance of a character we can care for, although much of that stems simply from her facial expressions of various emotional states. But her two suitors are so underdeveloped that the angst and budding but confused romance isn't given the proper story nutrition to stimulate more than a few chuckles and plenty of boredom.

The biggest disappoint is that the film was written and directed by Andrew Niccol, the New Zealand filmmaker who made quite the splash with his terrific sci-fi yarn "Gattaca" and then followed that up with the equally impressive "The Truman Show." Hearing his name attached to this project, I had hopes he could do something interesting with the source material. Unfortunately, one would be hard pressed to see his earlier signature filmmaking prowess or touches on display here (perhaps Meyers, with all of her newfound "Twilight" might and serving as producer, had too much say in his adaptation).

By the time it concludes its far too lengthy two-plus hour runtime (complete with an unnecessary "months later" coda that promises a sequel), "The Host" will likely make you feel like you've been infected by the cold or flu. You might experience some loopy laughs here and there, but otherwise you'll be miserable and hope it's over as soon as possible. It rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed March 26, 2013 / Posted March 29, 2013


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