Andrew Niccol's film of The Host starts so well that, when it suddenly slows to a crawl 20 minutes later, your impulse is to give it some slack -- to let it find its feet and get back on track.
Unfortunately, it never does.
So what you end up with is a drippy, new-agey sci-fi tale that spends a lot of time talking while making very little actually happen.
The film is based on a novel by Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight books and, one assumes, aimed at the same moony-eyed teen audience. It's a romance, of course, but one that's of two minds - and yet winds up being virtually mindless.
It's not hard to see Niccol's attraction to the material. He is, after all, the writer behind such sci-fi tales as The Truman Show, In Time and Gattaca, the latter being one of the more underrated sci-fi tales of the 1990s. It's also a film this one resembles at times in its vision of a demonically calm future and its eye for futuristic locations that exist in the present.
Instead of a human-created dystopia, however, this particular tale takes place after an alien invasion from outer space. The invaders look a little like palm-sized fiber-optic centipedes and, as in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, they take over human hosts - get it? - using their bodies as homes, rather than templates. Then they go on living in human form, ridding the planet of pollution, war, disease and other forms of pestilence.
Which all sounds pretty good. But there are a few hold-outs: a resistance movement of humans who, bless them, want no part of the hive-mind. (Apparently they've never heard of Fox News Channel).
One of these resisters, the portentously named Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan), is the first such human we glimpse, running from Seekers. They're the enforcers of the new order; you can tell which people are aliens in human form by the fluorescent blue ring within the iris of their eyes.
The Seekers seem like amiable sorts: "Be careful," one says calmy as Melanie dodges them. To escape them, she jumps through a window from a great height, seemingly to her death. But the aliens possess strong medicine; they heal her body, then implant a new "soul" (the aforementioned centipede) in her neck.
The soul says its name is "Wanderer" (later shortened to Wanda, as though trying to say her name with a Louisiana accent). But much to Wanderer's surprise, Melanie's mind refuses to relinquish control of her body.
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