×

The Million Dollar Hotel

Despite intriguing cult trappings, the presence of superstar Mel Gibson and a formidable bunch of musicians on the terrific music track, Wim Wenders' "The Million Dollar Hotel" looms as a tough sell indeed. In North America, where no distrib has signed on as yet, this curious existential film noir will fall into a limbo between mainstream and arthouse fare, but it stands a better chance in Europe, especially in director Wenders' native Germany.

With:
Tom Tom - Jeremy Davies Eloise - Milla Jovovich Skinner - Mel Gibson Geronimo - Jimmy Smits Dixie - Peter Stormare Vivien - Amanda Plummer Jessica - Gloria Stuart Hector - Tom Bower Charley Best - Donal Logue Shorty - Bud Cort Terence Scopey - Julian Sands Stanley Goldkiss - Harris Yulin Joe - Richard Edson Jean Swift - Charlayne Woodard Izzy Goldkiss - Tim Roth

Despite intriguing cult trappings, the presence of superstar Mel Gibson and a formidable bunch of musicians on the terrific music track, Wim Wenders’ “The Million Dollar Hotel” looms as a tough sell indeed. In North America, where no distrib has signed on as yet, this curious existential film noir will fall into a limbo between mainstream and arthouse fare, but it stands a better chance in Europe, especially in director Wenders’ native Germany, where it opened the first Berlin Film Festival of the new millennium.

Wenders’ fascination with American culture and, especially, American music has been evident throughout his 30-year career, and his association with Ry Cooder on his most successful film, “Paris, Texas,” ultimately led him to Cuba and last year’s hit music docu, “Buena Vista Social Club.”

While there was much to admire in his most recent fiction film, “The End of Violence” (1997), it was a commercial nonstarter, and the same fate is likely to befall “Hotel,” which was co-produced by Wenders’ Road Movies company and Gibson’s Icon Entertainment.

The new pic is almost a compendium of the director’s lifetime themes and obsessions — the wallowing in American trash culture, a fascination with what’s cool on the music scene, elements of faux noir in the “Hammett” tradition and a story in which lost souls seek redemption.

Although specifically set in L.A., it’s a film with a European feel; audiences partial to this rather rarefied material will find plenty to enjoy in the technically polished production, but those not on Wenders’ wavelength will be seriously alienated.

Intriguing setup revolves around a murder investigation conducted by FBI special agent Skinner (Gibson) into the death of Izzy Goldkiss (an uncredited Tim Roth), the son of media magnate Stanley Goldkiss (Harris Yulin); Izzy has fallen from the roof of the ironically named Million Dollar Hotel, which is located in a seedy section of downtown L.A. Suspects include an assorted bunch of losers and weirdos who inhabit the run-down establishment.

Pic gets off to a great start with a chopper shot of the L.A. skyline at dusk, descending to the huge metal sign on the roof of the titular hotel (“Popular Prices. Fire Proof”) to the accompaniment of the first of the several Bono songs featured on the soundtrack.

Tom Tom (Jeremy Davies) is running the length of the roof and waves to an unseen person before leaping to his death, while his voiceover narration asserts that only now does he realize that “life is the best.” An extended flashback picks up the story, which is arbitrarily set in 2001.

Skinner, who wears an uncomfortable-looking neck brace, soon discovers that the hotel is a haven for the city’s oddballs, of which the apparently retarded Tom Tom is only one.

There’s also Eloise (Milla Jovovich), a burned-out hooker with a taste for intellectual literature, whom Tom Tom adores; Geronimo (Jimmy Smits), who decides to make money out of the paintings — consisting of daubs of tar — “created” by Izzy before his death; Dixie (Peter Stormare), who claims to be the fifth Beatle and author of some of the group’s most famous songs and who speaks with a painfully broad Liverpool accent; the ditzy Vivien (Amanda Plummer), who asserts she was the dead man’s fiancee; the elderly Jessica (Gloria Stuart) and assorted others.

While Skinner carries out his desultory investigations, urged on by the dead man’s father, Tom Tom and Eloise begin a tentative, and apparently unconsummated, love affair. The cop’s methods include spying on all the inhabitants of the hotel and otherwise making life unpleasant for them.

The trouble is, the film never really catches fire either as a mystery or as a tale of unconditional love. Skinner, who is revealed to have been born with an additional arm, which has been surgically removed from his back, proves to be as much a “freak” as the inhabitants of the hotel — but the notion that the supposedly sane are just as mixed-up as the supposedly insane is hardly a new one, and is given undernourished treatment here.

Similarly, the romantic attachment between the knowing Eloise and the painfully inexperienced Tom Tom never amounts to anything substantial.

Performances are decidedly problematic, though there’s a welcome level of irony present in Gibson’s work; he tackles a nearly impossible character with charm and an edginess that give the film a much-needed center. But Jovovich provides no allure, looking wan and acting wanly throughout.

As for Davies, there will doubtless be conflicting opinions about the quality of his highly mannered performance; with his weird hair, manic and fidgety body moves and childlike speech, he will be, for many, a supremely irritating presence.

Luckily, Wenders’ visual skills haven’t deserted him, and with succulent widescreen lensing by Phedon Papamichael, “The Million Dollar Hotel” looks great even when what’s onscreen is unenthralling.

And there’s an extremely impressive music score featuring Brian Eno, Jon Hassell, Daniel Lanois and Bono. Concept of the pic was the brainchild of Bono, who had the idea of the opening (and closing) sequence when involved in a photo shoot on the roof of the hotel in question. Pic’s other technical credits are superior in all departments.

Ultimately, the superb craftsmanship and cultish aura can’t compensate for an underdeveloped and not very interesting story, especially when none of the characters is the least bit sympathetic or engaging.

The Million Dollar Hotel

Germany-U.S.

Production: An Icon Entertainment Intl. presentation of a Road Movies production in association with Icon Prods., Kintop Pictures. (International sales: Icon Entertainment, London). Produced by Deepak Nayar, Bono, Nicholas Klein, Bruce Davey, Wim Wenders. Executive producer, Ulrich Felsberg. Directed by Wim Wenders. Screenplay, Nicholas Klein, based on an idea by Bono, Klein.

Crew: Camera (FotoKem color, Panavision widescreen), Phedon Papamichael; editor, Tatiana S. Riegel; music, Jon Hassell, Bono, Daniel Lanois, Brian Eno; production designer, Robbie Freed; costume designer, Nancy Steiner; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS), Lee Orloff; special effects, Thomas Tannenberger; assistant director, Christine Larson; casting, Heidi Levitt, Monika Mikkelsen. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 9, 2000. Running time: 122 MIN.

With: Tom Tom - Jeremy Davies Eloise - Milla Jovovich Skinner - Mel Gibson Geronimo - Jimmy Smits Dixie - Peter Stormare Vivien - Amanda Plummer Jessica - Gloria Stuart Hector - Tom Bower Charley Best - Donal Logue Shorty - Bud Cort Terence Scopey - Julian Sands Stanley Goldkiss - Harris Yulin Joe - Richard Edson Jean Swift - Charlayne Woodard Izzy Goldkiss - Tim Roth

More Film

  • Richard Jenkins, Shane Paul McGhie Starring

    Richard Jenkins, Shane Paul McGhie to Star in Indie Comedy 'The Last Shift'

    “The Shape of Water” star Richard Jenkins and “What Men Want” actor Shane Paul McGhie have been cast in the independent comedy “The Last Shift.” The two will appear alongside Ed O’Neill, Da’Vine Joy Randolph (“High Fidelity”), Birgundi Baker (“The Chi”) and Allison Tolman (“Fargo”). Andrew Cohn is directing from his own script. “The Last [...]

  • The Band Doc 'Once Were Brothers'

    Robbie Robertson Documentary 'Once Were Brothers' to Open Toronto Film Festival

    “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band” will rock the opening night of the Toronto International Film Festival. The documentary recounts the story of one of Canada’s musical legends — a man who served as both lead guitarist and primary songwriter on a group that introduced the likes of “The Weight” and “The Night [...]

  • Rounds

    Stephan Komandarev and Catalin Mitulescu Films Among Sarajevo's 23 World Premieres

    The latest films from Bulgarian director Stephan Komandarev and Romania’s Catalin Mitulescu are among 23 world premieres competing for the Heart of Sarajevo awards at the 25th Sarajevo Film Festival. Komandarev’s 2017 film “Directions” played in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard and his 2008 opus, “The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner,” was [...]

  • Tommy JamesCousin Brucie 3rd Annual Palisades

    Tommy James Biopic 'Me, the Mob and the Music' in Development (EXCLUSIVE)

    Pop music star Tommy James and film producer Barbara DeFina are developing the biopic “Me, the Mob and the Music,” based on James’ autobiography. DeFina, whose credits include Martin Scorsese’s “Casino” and “GoodFellas,” and James have tapped three-time Tony Award winner Kathleen Marshall to helm the film adaptation from a screenplay by Matthew Stone (“Intolerable [...]

  • Terminator: Dark Fate

    Comic-Con: ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ Cast Will Hit Reddit Live-Streamed AMA (EXCLUSIVE)

    Arnold is back — and he and other cast members of “Terminator: Dark Fate” are joining a first-of-its-kind live-streaming Reddit AMA on Thursday from Comic-Con International in San Diego. For the new installment in the “Terminator” franchise, Paramount Pictures and Skydance are hosting a traditional Comic-Con panel Thursday 11 a.m.-12 noon in Hall H. Then, [...]

  • Pedestrians walk past a large screen

    Johnny Kitagawa: Power, Abuse, and the Japanese Media Omerta

    Will the death of Johnny Kitagawa lead to a change of attitude by the Japanese media to the powerful Johnny & Associates talent agency that he formed? Public broadcaster NHK and others this week reported a warning to the company from the Fair Trade Commission over alleged pressure on TV stations to keep members of [...]

  • Jahmil X.T. Qubeka on Durban Opening-Night

    Jahmil X.T. Qubeka on Durban Opening-Night Film ‘Knuckle City’

    DURBAN–Dudu Nyakama is an aging boxer whose best fighting days are behind him. But for a man whose only glory has come in the ring, a big prize fight offers the one shot at saving his family, dragging him into the criminal underbelly of the gritty township he’s spent his whole life trying to escape. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content