Jake Abel and Saoirse Ronan star in "The Host," the...

Jake Abel and Saoirse Ronan star in "The Host," the big screen adaptation of Stephenie Meyer�'s best-selling book, opening March 29, 2013. Credit: Open Road Films

Say what you want about "Twilight" author Stephenie Meyer, but her highly irritating teenage protagonists seem to resonate with their intended audience. In her vampire-themed franchise, Bella Swan's passive-aggression and battered-wife syndrome somehow became positive virtues; in the latest Meyer adaptation, "The Host," Melanie Stryder presents a model of inconsistency and self-delusion. The book spent 26 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list.

In "The Host," extraterrestrials known as Souls are bringing peace, health and plenitude to Earth, but at a price: Souls invade your body, erasing "you" forever. A sci-fi writer like Philip K. Dick ("Blade Runner") might have used this premise to explore notions of memory and identity. Meyer uses it to create a teen soap opera.

When a Soul named Wanderer invades Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), the girl's mind proves surprisingly tenacious. The result is one schizophrenic adolescent, with the logical demeanor of a space being but the snarky inner voice of a rebel. This is an elaborate setup for the real point of Meyer's story: Our heroine can attract two competing males.

Sound familiar, "Twilight" lovers? "The Host" clearly hopes to split audiences into Team Jared (Max Irons plays Melanie's hunky, boring beau) and Team Ian (Jake Abel is the sensitive guy who falls for Wanderer). Pingponging between them, the conflicted girl concocts all manner of fantasies that allow her to say both yes and no -- and remain blameless. "This is so wrong!" wails the inner Melanie. Later, Wanderer pants aloud, "Kiss me like you want to get slapped."

It's almost a shame that Ronan, an otherworldly beauty with enormously expressive eyes, is so good in this howlingly bad alien-bodice ripper. If not for her moving performance (and the sluggish pacing by writer-director Andrew Niccol), "The Host" could be a hit on the midnight camp circuit. Then again, never underestimate the instincts of the woman who gave us "Twilight."

PLOT After aliens invade Earthling bodies, one girl fights to retain her humanity.

RATING PG-13 (some sensuality and violence)

CAST Saoirse Ronan, Jake Abel, Max Irons


BOTTOM LINE "Twilight" author Stephenie Meyer trades vampires for aliens, but the result is still an overwrought and accidentally hilarious teen soap opera.


Stephanie Meyer: Love's not an alien concept

Stephenie Meyer made her fortune by packing three hormonal teens into a love triangle. So it's understandable that she'd be a little reluctant to stray too far from her "Twilight" formula for success with "The Host." "This isn't a love triangle," she protests, laughing. "This is a love square," with four parties involved.

A hit on the page, now it is a "high-stakes, high-concept" (Entertainment Weekly) sci-fi film starring Saoirse Ronan as Melanie, the human who hosts "Wanderer," one of a legion of aliens, collectively known as "The Soul," who have taken over Earth by implanting themselves into human bodies and eliminating war, hunger and strife of all kinds.

"I started out with the idea that everybody says they want world peace, but what would be the price of that? The loss of the individual? The loss of free will, of privacy? Those things make us who we are, and is world peace worth that?" Meyer, whose Mormon background works its way into her sci-fi/fantasy romance fiction, doesn't necessarily see "The Host" as an indirect reference to Mormon teachings.

"The Soul, in this story, do a pretty good job of making the world a better place," she explains. -- McClatchy-Tribune

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