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MOVIE REVIEW: Leave hard-to-watch 'The Host' to Meyer's dedicated fan base

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"The Host"

The Host

(PG-13)

1 1/2 out of 4 stars

One of the sadder fallouts of modern entertainment is that bad quality is just as, if not more embraced than the good stuff. Trashy novels outsell thoughtful literature and reality TV shows has all but crushed their episodic comedic and dramatic counterparts. The most obvious bit of poetic injustice, however, is with movies. The stupider they are, the more money they generally make at the box office. If you try to force people to think too much, they'll avoid you. It's safer just to play dumb.

While not "dumb" in the literal sense, the new adaptation of the Stephenie Meyer novel "The Host" is to film what Cheez Whiz is to aged cheddar, Hamburger Helper is to prime beef, Yugo is to Mercedes and Muzak is to music. Or, if you like, it is to sci-fi what Meyer's "Twilight Saga" was to vampire flicks.

An unholy concoction of the three "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," the second "Stepford Wives" and any disposable daytime soap opera, "The Host" presents a futurist dystopia with the slick and sparkly aesthetics of a Disney Family Channel production. There are aliens but they dress either like hospital orderlies or security personnel at a fashion show and -- thanks to some woefully designed colored contact lenses -- all sport creepy azure-blue peepers.

This is Earth at an unspecified time when an unspecified race overtakes the planet because humans kill each other and their environment and need replacing. What looks like a day-glow hologram shrimp with extra long tentacles is inserted into the scalpel wound on the back of an unfortunate's neck and in mere seconds a determined rebel/resister/problem case is made as docile, passive and agreeable as a Hindu cow.

Now outnumbering the humans by about a million to one, the aliens are ferreting out the remaining few holdouts which include Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), a plucky teen who refuses to let go of her identity even after the shrimp thingy named "Wanderer" has taken over her body. This sets up what is arguably the movie's most contrived and laughably inept subplot: Ronan's dueling inner-dialogue between Melanie and (now) Wanda.

With two personalities now inside her soul cage, Ronan's characters (of course) fall for two essentially interchangeable Abercrombie & Fitch-inspired pretty boys (Max Irons and Jake Abel) who (of course) hate each other. At one point, Melanie/Wanda has a tag-team make-out session with boys in order to determine which of her identities is which.

This whole chaste love triangle situation might be interesting if presented with some degree of verve and snap but Meyer lends it the same kind of milk-safe, dishwater-dull placidness she did with the three lovelorn leads in "Twilight." It's hard to watch such a talented young actress such as Ronan (who received a much deserved Oscar-nomination for her turn in "Atonement") trying to breathe life into such a silly and one-dimensional character.

Offering up some degree of dramatic tension are William Hurt as a resistance leader fond of shotguns and tough love and Diane Kruger as the alien "Seeker." With her skin-tight white suit, severe hairdo, model-ready jawline and fondness for muscle cars, Kruger delivers about as much menace and danger as a Meyer work will allow and her Seeker is the only character providing anything resembling fun or originality.

To make clear just how weak Meyer is as an original storyteller, all one needs to do is consider that "The Host" was adapted and directed by Andrew Niccol, a guy who knows a thing or two about sci-fi. Even the resourceful and witty writer and/or director of "Gattaca," "The Truman Show," "S1mone," "Lord of War" and "In Time" can't save the insipid source material, but Niccol goes far in distracting the audience with some nifty visuals and crisp set designs.

None of this will make a lick of difference to Meyer's dedicated fan base of young teen girls and swooning older women who gobble this kind of stuff up like deep-fried Haagen-Dazs. Even those who steadfastly avoid sci-fi of any kind at any cost will brave the plot in order to watch three more teens wade through love's shallowest of waters on the way to a pat and force-fit ending that makes plenty of room for an as-of-yet unwritten sequel. (Open Road)