Replace vampires and werewolves with body-snatching aliens, and you’re left with another dippy Stephenie Meyer love triangle
Here we go again: No sooner did the “Twilight” franchise pack up and head to that shiny coffin in the sky that we get another Stephenie Meyer story about the Special-est Girl in the World and the cute boys who fall madly in love with her. No bloodsuckers or lycanthropes this time, however; now it’s all about glittery dust-bunny aliens who have taken over all the human bodies and turned them…polite?
“The Host” posits an alien invasion whereby almost all of humanity has been body-snatched, resulting in a planet that’s clean, well-fed and kind. A remaining group of people has decided not to swap their souls for this utopia; one of them is Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), who’s been on the run with her younger brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury) and her boyfriend Jared (Max Irons), whom they encountered along the way.
To keep the Seeker (Diane Kruger) and her troops away from Jamie, Melanie distracts them and jumps out of a window. The aliens restore her body (through some of sort of spray-based technology) and implant it with a thousand-year-old “soul” known as The Wanderer, but Melanie’s sheer force of will remains alive, so the two of them duke it out over control of the body, like a not-remotely-funny version of Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin in “All of Me.”
Melanie convinces Wanderer to escape and to go to the hidden underground colony run by Melanie’s uncle Jeb (William Hurt); Jamie and Jared are there, as are brothers Ian (Jake Abel) and Kyle (Boyd Holbrook). While Jeb slowly intuits that Melanie’s spirit still lives inside her alien-possessed body, Ian starts falling for Wanderer (or “Wanda,” as Jeb calls her) while Jared refuses to believe that his beloved might still be sharing space with the visitor from another world.
During the dull stretches of “The Host” — and, sadly, there are many of them — you may find yourself rewriting the movie as a French farce, with two men in love with the two personalities inside the same woman (while a third man, Kyle, wants to kill her). Ideally, your version wouldn’t cast three male leads who couldn’t be distinguished in a police lineup; the marked resemblance between Jared, Ian and Kyle makes for occasional confusion and an extra helping of blandness that this flat movie certainly didn’t need. (Say what you will about the thespian talents of Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, at least you could tell them apart.)
A more competent movie could slip in some kind of subtext about young women being at war with their own bodies and desires (when Wanda kisses a boy, Melanie gets mad and slaps him), but writer-director Andrew Niccol doesn’t plumb any of that from Meyer’s book.
Niccol’s expertise is films about future dystopias with very attractive flies in the ointment (“Gattaca,” “In Time”), but he fails to bring any excitement here, from either plot or characters or the action, the latter of which always seems to involved chrome-covered cars, helicopters and guns. There are so many moments of unintentional humor in the film, that the intentional jokes fall a bit flat, because you’re not sure if they’re supposed to be funny or not.
If you saw “Atonement” or “Hanna,” you know that Ronan is a fine young actress, but most of the role calls for her to argue with her own voiceovers, and it gets increasingly hard to watch. Perhaps having a wraith version of Melanie squabbling with the tangible Wanda might have played better. The guys in her orbit have performances that are as interchangeable as their blankly handsome faces.
None of the humans pops as an interesting character, so it’s hard to get upset about the alien invasion when everyone on screen seems to be on the same uninteresting wavelength. There’s not even a marked enough difference between Melanie and Wanda-in-Melanie’s-body to make us care if our heroine gets her own body back.
There’s some nifty art direction here, notably the labyrinth of caves where the humans are hiding out, but “The Host” feels so polished and passionless that one might think that it was the product of one of the bland aliens. And if that’s the case, all the more reason to banish them from the planet.