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By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As with all movies, everyone’s welcome, but The Host has invited one demographic in particular to its party. And members of that audience – teenage girls – will be happy they showed up.

Others will exhibit somewhat less in the way of patience for what often seems like pure “…a-kiss-is-still-a-kiss…” wish fulfillment.

(2½ stars out of 4)

(2½ stars out of 4)

The Host is an adaptation of a best-selling 2008 romantic science fiction novel by Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight Saga, a series of four novels that resulted in five films. The author apparently means it to be the first installment of a planned trilogy aimed squarely at the Young Adult readership and audience.

The convoluted premise: in the not-too-distant future, a parasitic alien race from a distant planet of “souls” invade Earth and, in an effort not to destroy Earth but to rescue it from the humans who seem to be ruining it and who therefore don’t deserve it — and to more or less perfect it by creating order and restoring peace — inhabit human bodies by possessing their minds, suppressing their original personalities, and erasing their memories.

The aliens implanting souls in our bodies are anything but violent and murderous, but some humans refuse to cooperate with the takeover and instead develop a way to fight back.

One of the few still alive is Melanie Stryder, played by Saoirse Ronan, whose body has been inhabited by a soul named Wanderer, called Wanda.

Because Melanie refuses to simply fade away, Wanda starts seeing the memories in Melanie’s mind and can speak to her, as the two beings now share one body.

So Melanie is now trapped inside Wanda’s mind, so she can speak to her mentally. But she learns to coexist with her host as she proceeds to the New Mexico desert, where she joins a small band of freedom fighters, including Jared (Max Irons), whom she loves; Ian (Jake Abel), whom Wanda is drawn to; Melanie’s uncle (William Hurt), and her brother (Chandler Canterbury).

They’re all being pursued by Diane Kruger as the head of the Seekers, the aliens’ police force, who are intent on rounding up all fleeing humans.

Writer and director Andrew Niccol, somewhat of a science fiction specialist (In Time, Gattaca, Simone), treats this post-apocalyptic tale with echoes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers as more of a character-driven drama than a sensationalistic thriller, exploring the theme of identity by looking at the differences between mind and body, and with the unusual love triangle – actually, a love rectangle is more like it – as the ultimate heart of the film.

But the combination of Niccol’s unhurried pace, an over-two-hours running time, and the film’s flirtation with verging-on-parody ridiculousness makes the film feel a good deal longer than it is.

And there will be eye-rolling by non-teens throughout certain ultra-romantic moments, and some laughing at rather than the intended laughing with during the script’s occasional stabs at what might loosely be described as comedy.

Ronan, the young Irish actress nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for Atonement in 2007, essentially plays two roles – that is, two people inhabiting one body, competing for control – and she is once again a remarkable screen presence. There are a number of wooden or self-conscious line readings along the way by various cast members, but Ronan and Hurt transcend the material admirably.

So we’ll recall 2½ stars out of 4 for a romantic teen sci-fi fantasy meant to be seen just after Twilight. The Host has a host of things to gripe about, but its fans either won’t notice or won’t mind.

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