This ain’t no Jolly Rancher

Hard Candy

If To Catch a Predator and the Kick Ass character Hit Girl were fired off in opposite directions in the Large Hadron Collider and slammed into each other at near light speed it’s a good bet that what you’d end up with is Hard Candy.

Hard Candy is apparently not a movie for the faint of heart; I learned this as I was watching it with my sister, who spent most of the movie convinced I was lying to her about a particular plot point I won’t ruin for you but DID have to reveal to her because she was getting so angry and disgusted with the movie. She didn’t even bother to watch the last five minutes of the movie because she found the whole premise so upsetting.

When a movie starts out with a clearly older man suggestively chatting online with a young teen and asking her to meet up with him, you know the movie is going to make you uncomfortable and probably make you angry. Following this chat that could be straight out of a Perverted Justice sting operation, it only goes downhill as Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) surprises Hayley Stark (Ellen Page) in the middle of eating a delicious-looking chocolate topped pastry and licks the chocolate off his thumb after wiping it off her lip. A small conversation filled with very complimentary words aimed at her later and they’re soon on their way to his house, at which point I was asking myself why I was watching this movie and picked up the case to read the back again in case I’d missed anything.

I needn’t have worried; soon after they arrive at the house Jeff learns a valuable lesson about mixing his own drinks (that it’s a good idea for everyone) after waking up tied to a chair while Hayley searches his house for… we’ll just say pictures of kids in compromising positions. I’ll leave it there so as not to spoil the the fun, but suffice it to say Jeff doesn’t have a very good time for the rest of the movie.

Patrick Wilson was a good pick for the role of Jeff; he’s good looking and can really pour the charm on. He was also very convincing as a man desperate to get himself out of the trouble he unwittingly brought home with him. It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for him – until you remember the little chat from the beginning of the film and the fact that he’s brought home a 14-year-old girl. That’s an instant sympathy-killer right there.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usPre-Juno Ellen Page looks every bit as young as her character Hayley is supposed to be. What I really liked about her is that she went from silly teen trying to sound sophisticated to impress an older guy to cold-blooded, single-minded mastermind in a flash. All Jeff’s considerable charms didn’t stand a chance against the giant wall of ice she had constructed. And I’ll admit, to me, it was a bit fun to watch her break him down and then just keep throwing proverbial haymakers. Could a 14-year-old do something this sophisticated? Probably not. Was it something of a guilty pleasure to suspend belief and watch a pervert receive his just deserts? Oh yeah.

What I didn’t like about the movie was that there was no why. There was no explanation for why she was doing what she was doing (though it may be inferred given her reactions when she finds a certain photograph). I don’t care to delve into the psychological scapegoat for Jeff’s little – ahem – “problem” (which he does end up talking about/making up under some duress), but it bothers me that by the end of the movie there wasn’t any concrete reason laid out for her “extra-curricular activities.”

Verdict: A-. It almost pains me to give this a better score than The Perfect Host because that movie hit my funny bone in all the right places, but this movie was simply better at really nailing both characters down before things went sideways. And while it’s not a movie I’ll be rewatching any time soon, I definitely recommend watching it at least once. Especially if you enjoy revenge fantasy-type movies.

Rated R for disturbing violent and aberrant sexual content involving a teen, and for language.

“You can’t kill me, I’m having a dinner party!”

The Perfect Host

What do you get when you take one part Niles Crane from the long-running series Frasier and combine it with two parts alternate history of Daphne marrying Donny and a complete mental breakdown? The Perfect Host, that’s what.

Just to clear things up before we delve into the meat of the movie, no, this isn’t a movie about a crazy Niles. But it does star David Hyde Pierce in a role that does seem to draw from Niles’ personality – and as you’ll see, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The movie starts off with a fairly low-key getaway sequence as John Taylor (Clayne Crawford), a career criminal, executes a surprisingly well thought out series of steps to avoid drawing the cops down on him in a flurry of military hardware. An unplanned injury, however, leads to some big problems that leave John looking to lay low until the heat dies down.

A cheeky drop.Enter Warwick Wilson (Pierce), a well-to-do man in the midst of preparing a posh dinner party for his friends. John uses Warwick’s mail to socially engineer himself right through the front door and into his own personal hell.

The Perfect Host starts off a bit slow as it follows John trying to stay one step ahead of the police and smooth-talk Warwick before picking up steam when his impatience with his chatty host leads to his true identity coming out.

Maybe it’s my own personal bias – I love Frasier and Niles is my favorite character – but Pierce steals the scene whether he’s interacting with his party guests or contributing to what I’d imagine is a growing wish on John’s part that he’d just turned himself in. As Warwick he plays the nice guy so well you find yourself rooting for him to win out over the far more crass and abrasive John, ably played by Crawford as a man desperately grasping at control of a situation he lost control of the minute he rang Warwick’s doorbell.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usWhat other cast there is consists mostly of Warwick’s party guests (though none of them are really focused on enough to get a sense of who they are – for good reason) and two cops hot on John’s trail (one of whom is played by Joseph Will, who once upon a time had a role as Niles’ cousin in the fifth season Frasier episode “Beware of Greeks”).

It’s hard to talk about the movie without spilling details that would ultimately ruin the experience of watching it for the first time. Suffice it to say, it’s certainly funny and well worth the time you’ll spend watching it, especially if you happen to be a David Hyde Pierce fan with a perverse desire to see a Niles that has gone completely off his rocker. I will say the character of Warwick seemed a little wooden at first and the pacing seems a little off, but once the movie gets moving you’ll find yourself more than just a little amused as you watch him cheerfully abuse John throughout his posh dinner party.

Verdict: B+. The wooden start of Warwick really put a damper in my initial enthusiasm for the movie, but Pierce’s pitch-perfect delivery once we got to see who Warwick really is won me right back.

Rated R for language, some violent content and brief sexual material.