The Million Dollar Hotel


          When the Irish rock band shot the video for their single "Where the
  Streets Have No Name" on the roof of a run-down building in Los Angeles,
  lead singer Bono was intrigued by the structure's name --
THE MILLION
    DOLLAR HOTEL
. He began to spin stories about the residents of the place,
  which at one time had hosted US Presidents but was now home to junkies,
  the elderly and other societal castoffs. After spending a few years ruminating
  on a project, Bono hooked up with writer Nicholas Klein, who had collaborated
  with Wim Wenders on the unfortunate
THE END OF THE VIOLENCE. Klein
  particular was drawn to the characters and got to employ an opening line he
  always wanted to use: "After I jumped, everything was clear." Eventually
  Wim Wenders came aboard as director and Mel Gibson signed on to co-star
  and his ICON Productions aided in the funding.

          The resulting motion picture,
THE MILLION DOLLAR HOTEL, opened
  at the 2000 Berlin Film Festival where it picked up the Silver Bear prize, but
  it also has divided audiences in its theatrical release in Europe and Australia,
  and I suspect, the same will occur in the USA.

          Like
SUNSET BOULEVARD and AMERICAN BEAUTY -- two films that
  explore popular culture by contrasting disparate but related archetypes --
  
THE MILLION DOLLAR HOTEL opens with a suicide and the jumper, the
  mentally challenged Tom Tom (Jeremy Davies), provides the narration. At
  the heart of the film is the mysterious death of Izzy Goldkiss (an uncredited
  cameo by Tim Roth) who also committed suicide. Or did he? His wealthy
  media mogul father (Harris Yulin) is not so certain and has asked an FBI
  agent named Skinner (Mel Gibson) to investigate. Skinner arrives at the
  titular establishment and begins to conduct an investigation of the residents
  with several of the oddball tenants emerging as suspects. There's Izzy's
  roommate Geronimo (a twitchy Jimmy Smits), a would-be artist who favors
  making tar paintings (created for the film by Julian Schnabel); Eloise (an okay
  Milla Jovovich), a waifish prostitute who enjoys walking around barefoot and
  voraciously reads in her spare time; Dixie (Peter Stormare, with a bad
  Liverpudlian accent), who claims to be the missing fifth Beatle --
  apparently in his delusions he discounts both Pete Best and Brian Epstein;
  Vivian (Amanda Plummer doing her usual weird shtick), who claims
  to have been engaged to Izzy;  Jessica (an always welcome but very
  underused Gloria Stuart), Eloise's elderly caretaker; and Hector (Tom Bower)
  and Shorty (Bud Cort), two slick but slightly sinister denizens.

          Perhaps one of the biggest flaws in the film is that the audience really
  doesn't care about Izzy or his death, and neither apparently do the writers.
  His demise takes a back seat to subplots involving an art scam (with Julian
  Sands as an appropriately snarky art dealer) and the romance between
  Tom Tom and Eloise, both of which go on for far too long.

          Interestingly, star Mel Gibson reportedly tried to distance himself
  from the film, making statements to the press that he found the picture
  as exciting as a dog's rear end. Ironically, the film has provided a role
  in which he can displays his thespian gifts without showboating (as he
  does in
WHAT WOMEN WANT, where the audience never forgets they
  are watching Mel Gibson). Skinner is a physical freak -- a man who was
  born with a third arm that was surgically removed (obviously Klein and
  Bono are fans of Edward Albee) -- who is capable of empathy for the
  people he is interrogating. He arrives on the scene wearing a neck brace
  that causes him to walk with a stiff gait. Playing the character, Gibson
  seems to relish the opportunity to cast off his typical screen persona in
  favor of a real performance.

          Unfortunately, Wenders and the writers have put Jeremy Davies'
  Tom Tom front and center. Personally, I'm growing weary of this actor's
  continual channeling of the late Anthony Perkins in each role he
  undertakes. (Gus Van Sant really missed the boat in not casting Davies
  as Norman Bates in his remake of
PSYCHO.) The heavily mannered lost
  boy routine, despite being appropriate for the role, has grown stale.

          As always, Wenders is an adept visual stylist and the film has
  a terrific look to it, thanks to production designer Robbie Freed and
  the expert camerawork of cinematographer Phedon Papamichael. The
  soundtrack, which includes a handful of new songs by Bono, is also
  impressive, lending the appropriate overall mood to the picture.

          It's unfortunate that
THE MILLION DOLLAR HOTEL doesn't
  quite fulfill the promise of its intriguing premise. Despite numerous
  in-jokes that will undoubtedly provide fodder for a doctoral dissertation,
  the script is the key failing. A story of the mentally ill who are as sane
  or saner than so-called "normal" society is hardly groundbreaking, and
  as the work of Klein and Bono add nothing new to the discussion, the
  film has to be chalked up as a noble, albeit interesting, failure.



                  
Rating:                  C-
                  
MPAA Rating:         R for language and sexual content
                  
Running time:        122 mins.
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.