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Director Andrew Niccol offers an empty 'Host'

The Host

Director: Andrew Niccol

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Diane Kruger, William Hurt

Rated: PG-13 (some sensuality, violence)

Running time: 125 min.

Posted 5:18pm on Thursday, Mar. 28, 2013

The intergalactic visitors who take over Earth in The Host are disembodied beings who may pilfer human bodies for habitation but, in the process, they usher in world peace, dress stylishly in white, are impeccably groomed, and drive silver Lotus sports cars everywhere. What's not to like?

There is that whole surrendering-your-will-to-a-foreign-entity thing and that really doesn't sit well with Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), a young woman who is part of an underground resistance. But she's captured by an especially determined seeker (Diane Kruger), sort of the KGB of this new world order, who implants her with an alien who takes the name of Wanderer.

Yet, while there's no trace left of humanity after most implantations, the inner Melanie is still fighting back, causing some cognitive dissonance for Wanderer and giving new meaning to the term "split personality."

This intriguing premise, based on a novel by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, is given a handsomely shot, alluringly chilly but slow-moving treatment by director/writer Andrew Niccol. (With his 2011 misfire, In Time starring Justin Timberlake, and now The Host, Niccol may be squandering the goodwill generated by his 1997 science-fiction masterpiece Gattaca, and his script for the 1998 film The Truman Show.)

The biggest problem is that much of The Host takes place inside Melanie's head. The arguments between Melanie and Wanderer probably worked much better on the printed page.

The second snag is the romance. Once Melanie convinces Wanderer to escape so she can meet up with what's left of her family and friends who are living in caverns in the desert, The Host becomes something of a love triangle. See, Melanie's old boyfriend, Jared (Max Irons), still likes her, while another of the survivors, Ian (Jake Abel), falls for Wanderer -- or Wanda as they now call her. It's a fun concept to explore, but neither of these guys is particularly interesting or compelling.

Meanwhile, the seekers -- despite their supreme technological advantage -- have trouble finding Melanie and her family, overseen by her stern-but-fair Uncle Jeb (William Hurt). Never mind that their huge, underground cave city -- complete with a wheat field (don't ask) -- and constant raids for supplies should make them easy to detect.

While it's commendable that Meyer and Niccol wanted to create a sci-fi world focused more on dialogue and character development than explosions, The Host, at just more than two hours, feels lethargic. It's easy to feel for Melanie/Wanda's situation, but there's little that's engaging about the other characters in her universe.

By the time the film finally gets to its conclusion -- an obvious set-up for a sequel -- you may wish you'd been possessed by aliens for the previous couple of hours.

Cary Darling, 817-390-7571

Twitter: @carydar

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