A dinner-party cat-and-mouse game in which the tables are turned with the frequency of a lazy Susan, Nick Tomnay’s psychological thriller, which he expanded from a short film made in his native Australia and relocated to Los Angeles, is in the vein of “Sleuth” and “Deathtrap” but not quite the equal of either in cleverness or wit. But those plays worked best in their original theatrical form, not the inferior film versions, and one has to wonder whether “The Perfect Host” might not have been more successful on stage as well.
Nonetheless Tomnay’s film has its attractions, not least the performance of David Hyde Pierce, who puts his talent for haughty precision to good use as Warwick Wilson, a prim, fastidious fellow whose modernist California home becomes the site of the action—or most of it. John Taylor (Clayne Crawford), a bank robber on the lam, hustles his way into the house just as Wilson is preparing a dinner for a select group of friends—not yet arrived. Before long Taylor’s taken Wilson hostage, forced him to cancel the affair, and plans to use the place as his refuge until he can plan his escape from the city.
But while it wouldn’t be fair to reveal precisely what transpires in the ensuing reels, Taylor’s plan goes awry, and Wilson proves something more than the milquetoast he first appears. Pierce has a field day with Warwick’s transformations, simultaneously playing on the persona he so memorably created in “Frasier” and sending it up mercilessly.
Taylor, it must be said, doesn’t quite manage to keep up with him, which weakens the film considerably. Nor does the rest of the cast, which includes Nathaniel Parker as a dogged policeman trying to track Taylor down, come across as much more than adequate. From a technical perspective, moreover, the picture barely passes muster; it calls for a touch of Hitchcockian elegance that Tomnay can’t manage.
Still, though this “Host” is far from perfect, it does offer incidental pleasures—not least Pierce’s exuberant turn—that make it the sort of picture you might want to catch on some ancillary media (it’s available on demand, for example) even if it doesn’t warrant a trip to a theatre.