Movie Review: 'The Host' -- 2 stars

Max Irons, left, and Saoirse Ronan in a

Max Irons, left, and Saoirse Ronan in a scene from "The Host." (Credit: Max Irons, left, and Saoirse Ronan in a scene from "The Host.")

The Host
2 stars
Directed by Andrew Niccol
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Max Irons, William Hurt
Rated PG-13

"The Host," adapted from the novel by "Twilight" author Stephenie Meyer, leaves behind the world of vampires and werewolves for a future populated by creepily calm aliens who occupy human bodies. But it's the same basic material, the portrait of a teenage girl facing an internal struggle while she's subject to the romantic overtures of two hunky guys.

In this case, the war within is of far greater consequence than Bella Swan weighing the benefits of an immortal future against the retention of her humanity. Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), the protagonist of "The Host," is taken over by an alien named Wanderer (Wanda, yes Wanda, for short), but she's hardly defeated. Instead, she shares space inside what was once her head with the extraterrestrial.

There's a fight for control as Wanda/Melanie is taken in by a band of human survivors, led by a bearded, ponytailed William Hurt, playing a man who looks and sounds a lot like Jeff Bridges. These humans live in an elaborate cave system somewhere in the desert, where they grow crops, thanks to enormous mirrors, and essentially bide their time until someone discovers a way out of this alien mess.

The cavern is an intricate set, with residences carved out of the elaborate rock formations and hidden wonders, such as rushing rapids and a golden-brown wheat field that stretches into the distance. The dust and grit practically seep into your veins, thanks to writer-director Andrew Niccol ("Gattaca"), whose camera explores every contour of this natural wonder.

The aliens are known as Souls and those who identify bodies primed for occupation are Seekers. An especially determined Seeker (Diane Kruger) hunts Wanda/Melanie -- but she's a paper villain at best. The character is so bland that there's no tangible threat or particular reason to fear her efforts. The humans naturally distrust the aliens, who are distinguished by their translucent eyes, but they are mostly quick to welcome Wanda/Melanie.

The only real conflict here comes from within. It's the one going on inside the protagonist's head, which plays out as a series of verbal thought confrontations while poor Saoirse Ronan has little to do but look very uncomfortable. That's a fundamental misconception on the part of Meyer and Niccol, who have no idea how to make the process of this character working out her identity crisis seem like anything more than a gimmick.

Of course, the target audience won't dish out multiplex prices for the movie's sterile dystopian vision or to be consumed by Wanda/Melanie's identity crisis. They'll check in to see handsome Jared (Max Irons) and Ian (Jake Abel) fight over our heroine, with lots of sappy young adult romantic dialogue, heroic gestures, kissing in the rain and scenes of longing and despair. But now, after five "Twilight" films, even those basic Stephenie Meyer staples have run their course.

Tags: Entertainment , The Host , Robert Levin , Movie , ARTICLE , AMNY , HOLD

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