Matt Ross’ “28 Hotel Rooms” flirts with erotic and cinematic possibilities in examining a long-distance affair that starts with casual sex and grows to emotional involvement over a number of years. But lacking much dramatic or intellectual stimulation, it’s ultimately a limp effort. The two-hander exists primarily as a showcase for actors Chris Messina and Marin Ireland, who lack in range what they make up for in chemistry. Pic will draw muted interest from domestic and foreign arthouse buyers.
Without introduction, Messina and Ireland (whose characters remain nameless throughout) appear in flagrante in Room 1704 — the first of 28 numbered hotel rooms identified onscreen in the form of chapter headings; it’s a helpful tool, indicating passage of time as well as change of location, since these always nice but seldom luxurious quarters look so much alike.
Over the next few rooms/dates, they get to know each other a bit better: He’s a New York novelist whose first book is a bestseller, while she’s a Seattle corporate accountant. His darker, slightly Italianate features and her blonde, Scandinavian appearance complement each other, and their mutual attraction is made palpable as the actors, onscreen throughout the film, throw themselves into their roles.
Once the scenario and characters are in place, however, the pic shows little interest in pushing matters to more provocative, thoughtful or unexpected levels. Economic circumstances change, and both lovers marry other people at points — a matter of muted comedy at best, particularly concerning parentage of offspring, but it’s seldom enough to stir intense emotional fires.
A similar situation played out with far greater impact in Frederic Fonteyne’s 1999 erotic drama “An Affair of Love,” also involving a nameless couple (played by Nathalie Baye and Sergi Lopez) carrying on an affair in hotel rooms. The stakes feel much lower in Ross’ film, and when the fireworks eventually do arrive, it’s too little, too late. A tacked-on ending feels implausible.
That “28 Hotel Rooms” pairs characters with little depth and actors with little range could be viewed as a good fit. But it’s never an interesting or memorable journey.
Doug Emmett’s camerawork in the contained settings is skilled and varied in a tech package that’s consistently pro.