Oftentimes, an independent film will score a major coup by attaching a well-known actor to the project. That name on the poster or the DVD cover can end exponentially grow the audience that would otherwise have watched relative unknowns. The problem with such a strategy is that no matter the talent of an actor, he can’t improve on a terrible script. And that’s the problem with Nick Tomnay’s The Perfect Host. He landed David Hyde Pierce, who absolutely murders his role with such delightful and whimsical glee. And yet, Pierce’s performance is so outstanding that it just shines a beacon on the amateurish and awkwardly paced remains of the film. You can put a bow on a pig but that don’t make her a princess, no matter how lovely and sparkly the bow. The agonizing part of The Perfect Host, other than sitting through an overlong and trite series of twists that only merit surprise in that someone would have the gall to actually commit them to film, is that you can see exactly where it could have gone so right. It’s an interesting if well trodden thriller concept — the predator becoming prey — but the motivations and explanations are either excruciatingly hackneyed or mind-bogglingly inane. Sadly, while Tomnay did manage to find The Perfect Host in David Hyde Pierce, he threw a really fucking shitty party. Jersey Chuck E. Cheese with Tijuana water bad.
John Taylor (Clayne Crawford) is on the run. He limps away from the bank he just robbed for $300,000 on a busted foot, switching cars for bicycles, throwing wig and sunglasses in a dumpster, basically everything anyone who spent a lazy Sunday watching “Law & Order: NCIS: VS: SUV” marathons would reasonably remember to do. After a semi-humorously ironic convenience store comedy of errors, he discovers that his fool-proof plan was all for naught, and he’s a wanted criminal. So he gimps his way down a ritzy Los Angeles neighborhood — though allegedly he was last seen in Silverlake, so he’s got a fuck of a long walk through some greasy hipsters first — and tries to con his way in. Psych he is not, and after he fails to fool one old Jehovah’s Witness (Helen Reddy). She is woman, hear her roar, but this shiftless drifter she will ignore. Thwarted, he quickly heads down the block and into the clutches of the effete Warwick Wilson (David Hyde Pierce).
Perusing his mail, John uses his wily subterfuge talents to worm his way into the home of quirky little Warwick. Warwick is throwing a dinner party, but loathe to discard a friend of his out-of-the-country girlfriend Julia, he lets the limping and tattooed stranger into his home and offers him wine. Through seemingly friendly bumbling antics, Warwick nearly catches John in his painfully obvious lie. Purported to be a con-man, John’s no fucking Matchstick Man. The only cons going on here are convoluted plot, connived storyline, and concussions I suffered falling asleep as the film begins to dabble goonily. Clearly, there’s more to Warwick than just the vaguely fem capering and delicate mannerisms. But exactly how batshit crazy Warwick is nearly worth the price of admission.
David Hyde Pierce is like a force unleashed. He’s like a puppy set loose in a sausage haus — loping about and mangling everything with reckless playful abandon. It’s a devastatingly good performance, completely unbalanced but perfectly tenored. Even when he’s forced to wriggle through the NASCAR on meth levels of braindead stupid senselessness that make up the unnecessary third act, he’s still so good you almost ride with it. There are maybe five actors working today that could have pulled this off — and Pierce does it with gusto. People are probably going to like this film solely on the buoyant bananas Pierce is flinging.
But they have a greater tolerance for suck than do I, friends. Clayne Crawford approaches his John Taylor like a “Friday Night Lights” linebacker who took too much helmet to helmet contact. I know he’s supposed to be overwhelmed here, but he’s so out of his league against Pierce he should be standing in the stadium bathroom handing out paper towels and spritzes of Axe Body Spray. There’s never a single moment where you want to see him escape, except into the sweet embrace of death.
Yet, I can’t fault Crawford. He had absolutely nothing to work with in Tomnay’s horrendous script. It could have been a delicious dark comedy, but instead it’s mired down by thoroughly unlikely plot twists. John’s ultimate motivation for stealing the money tries to turn this into a morality play, but in all honesty, I would rather have watch two slick bastards take each other down. A perfect host knows how to pair wine with food. He was serving David Hyde Pierce vintage bottles with Arby’s. John Taylor needed to be Sawyer from “Lost,” and instead, he was just completely lost. While Tomnay must have convinced himself that he was a genius, you can practically see the paint-by-numbers patterns coming through every twist. And where it wasn’t twisty enough, he manufactured twists that were so unfuckingbelieveably stupid, that I dare not type them. It’s not that fear spoilerizing this spoiled mess, it’s that to commit them to the written word would cause the cones in your retinas to spontaneously fill with Pinkberry and make your orbital cavities freeze and shatter. That’s the stupidest metaphor I could think of, and it’s still not half as fucking dumb as the shit they expect you to swallow by this film’s end.
David Hyde Pierce works some serious Hogwarts on this flick, but it’s still not nearly enough to rise above the rest of the muck and mire of the film. Actually, it’s plenty enough to rise above, to rise so high you actually can feel the massive disconnect. It’s like trying to watch a 3D movie without the glasses. A blurry, tears of boredom inducing shambles that does nothing to improve the movie going experience. Hopefully, this will earn Pierce the opportunity to find some darker roles, because he’s proven he’s got the chops. My only fear is that he’s so good he’s going to convince people they’re having a good time. But you would expect nothing less from such a quality host.