Tuesday, June 28, 2011

David Hyde Pierce is the Perfect Host

Broadway patrons who saw David Hyde Pierce in the revival of La Bête have a sense of his range well beyond Frasier. Though a complete change-up from Restoration comedy in rhymed couplets, his character still has serious hospitality issues in Nick Tomnay’s small-in-scope but ruthlessly able indie thriller The Perfect Host, which opens this Friday in New York.

John Taylor is a desperate man. Wounded in a bank hold-up, Taylor needs a place to hide out and tend to his wounds. Of course, suburban Los Angeles is not the most welcoming neighborhood for a bleeding criminal. Somehow though, Taylor bluffs his way into the affluent but fastidious Warwick Wilson’s elegant home. Wilson does his best to be gracious while preparing for a dinner party before inevitably Taylor goes Dog Day Afternoon on him. However, neither Wilson nor his ostensive dinner party are what they initially seem. Let the cat-and-mouse games begin and best of luck to Taylor.

Essentially, Host follows in the Sleuth tradition of pitting a crafty old mastermind against a younger dumber antagonist with highly developed survival instincts. In fact, Tomnay pulls several rather inventive switcheroos without the proceedings feeling too clever or forced.

Unquestionably, Pierce is Host’s ace card. Both capitalizing on and subverting his Niles Crane persona, Pierce carries off each of Wilson’s revelations with élan. As Taylor, poor Clayne Crawford simply is not in the same league, but he keeps his cool and plugs away diligently enough. Though he does not have much to do beyond looking tall and suspicious of the goings on, it is also amusing to see Nathaniel “Inspector Lynley” Parker appear as a detective with Los Angeles’ finest.

Tomnay maintains a tense atmosphere while keeping viewers invested in the over-the-top gamesmanship. The production design team also earns considerable credit for creating the perfect claustrophobic setting with Wilson’s eerily immaculate house. Unfortunately though, the film is visually drab, never evoking a noir look or any sense of cinematic style.

Prospective viewers should try to avoid the Host trailer, because it is hard not to be spoilery with a film like this, even with the best of intentions. Tomnay works awfully hard keeping the twists coming, which will probably bug snootier audiences. For those who enjoy an entertaining stage thriller (largely one set and two or three characters), Host is quite a good time at the movies, definitely recommended when it opens this Friday (7/1) in New York at the Quad Cinema.