11:07 AM EDT, March 28, 2013
"The Host" is for people who couldn't handle the whirlwind pace of events in the "Twilight" trilogy and who prefer a love triangle unafraid to redefine, for a new generation, the word "lollygag."
It features several shots of Diane Kruger (as a capital-S Seeker alien, middle-managing the takeover of Earth) standing around in the desert, next to her shiny alien sports car of the near future, waiting around for a stray human to show up and make her day. The film may as well be titled "Stephenie Meyer's Waiting Around."
When not idling above ground, "The Host" confines itself to an underground series of caves that look like soundstage sets (and not enough of them). There's a river, too, resembling one of those lazy rivers at a Wisconsin Dells water park. William Hurt, who portrays the bearded patriarch Uncle Jeb, confides to his fellow survivors and wheat farmers in hiding: "I always liked science-fiction stories. I never thought I'd be living in one." He does so in such a way as to suggest a veteran actor mentally reminding himself about when the caterers will be bringing lunch.
Speaking of talking to yourself ... "The Host" is all about voices in your head. Written by "Twilight" creator Meyer, and adapted for the screen by director Andrew Niccol, it imagines the planet we call home (though we never call often enough) shortly after an invasion by creatures from another galaxy. They are called the Souls. The Souls have rid the joint of strife, hunger, wars, even product placement. Here's how: The Seekers locate humans to serve as hosts for Souls. The bodies aren't so much snatched as gently sublet. Saoirse Ronan plays Melanie Stryder, whose body is sublet by a Soul named Wanderer.
Then the darndest thing happens: Melanie and Wanderer become frenemies, and Melanie arm-twists the interplanetary visitor in her body, and head, to escape the lair of the Seekers and return to Melanie's cave-dwelling survivalist clan, including her sullen boyfriend (Max Irons) and little brother (Chandler Canterbury).
Then the second-darndest thing happens: "Wanda," the newly nicknamed Wanderer subletting Melanie's body, falls in love with Ian (Jake Abel). As the old "Patty Duke Show" theme song put it: What a wild duet! Melanie is the hostest with the mostest romantic complications, that's for sure.
Typical dialogue: "Wanderer!" "Yes, Seeker?" I confess to siding with the occupying forces on this one. Cooler cars, better fashion sense. What's not to like? As with "Twilight," Meyer's romantic fantasies are often very violent and only occasionally sexual, and even less often honestly so.
Director Niccol made the peppy science-fiction tale "In Time," but nothing in "The Host" happens quickly. In its storytelling rhythm, it puts the "shee-ate!" in "excruciating." And while Ronan's a sharp and perceptive actress, the material defeats her. The alien invasion love quadrangle (rectangle? rhombus?) lies there the way Meyer's prose in the novel did. The best you can say about the movie, other than Ronan and Kruger giving it their all, is that you don't have to read bits like this one from the book: "He curled his arms around me, pulling me tighter against his chest. Our lips moved together, fusing as if they would never divide, as if separation was not the inevitable thing it was, and I could taste the salt of our tears."
Who knows? The movie may well find its audience the way "Twilight" did at the multiplexes and thereafter. But be warned. At one point, a title card pops up on the screen: MONTHS LATER. And you think: Holy Kenosha! How many more months of "The Host" can a humanoid take?
'The Host' -- 1 star
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for some sensuality and violence)
Running time: 2:05
Copyright © 2015 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC