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