What aims for Hitchcockian slyness ends up an inconsequential jumble in the comedy thriller "The Perfect Host."
Co-writer-director Nick Tomnay first introduces on-the-lam criminal John (Clayne Crawford) — fresh from a robbery that's left him bleeding — who cons his way into the well-appointed home of Warwick (David Hyde Pierce), a kind yet snobbish single guy setting up for a dinner party. We know John's secret, but Warwick's is a little more sinister, involving imaginary guests and a grisly scrapbook detailing how he prefers his meticulously hosted evenings to progress.
The promise of a chess-like tug of war between devilish pretenders, however, is quickly dissipated by Pierce's hammy and none too scary weirdo, Crawford's charisma-free turn and a general sense that this is a short-film concept stretched way too thin. (In fact, Tomnay originally devised it and filmed a version of it as a short.)
Tomnay's belief in old-school suspense tactics is admirable, but Warwick's delusional shtick proves too mood-crushing a device. And once coincidences rear their ugly heads, and twists seen from miles away pant breathlessly into view, there's little left to save "The Perfect Host" from feeling like a platter of empty calories.
"The Perfect Host." MPAA rating: R for language, some violent content and brief sexual material. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.