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With: Mel Gibson, Jeremy Davies, Milla Jovovich, Gloria Stuart, Jimmy Smits, Peter Stormare, Amanda Plummer, Gloria Stuart, But Cort, Donal Logue, Tom Bower, Julian Sands, Conrad Roberts, Harris Yulin, Charlayne Woodard, Ellen Cleghorne
Written by: Nicholas Klein, based on a story by Bono
Directed by: Wim Wenders
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content
Running Time: 122
Date: 02/09/2000

The Million Dollar Hotel (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Hotel' Registers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

"Boring as a dog's arse," quipped Mel Gibson about his new film, The Million Dollar Hotel, directed by Wim Wenders. It would have been more appropriate if Gibson were talking about his other recent movies, The Patriot or What Women Want. But The Million Dollar Hotel is actually one of Gibson's most interesting films since his Mad Max days. I suppose it all depends on the dog...

Backing up a bit, one of my favorite moments in all of Wenders' work comes in Until the End of the World (1991), when William Hurt and Solveig Dommartin are flying in a plane and an electromagnetic blast knocks out the engine. They begin a slow, gliding descent, all sound cut except the wind and Peter Gabriel's song "Blood of Eden."

The Million Dollar Hotel starts similarly, with Tom Tom (Jeremy Davies) looking out over Los Angeles from the top of the hotel, complete with a tall wrought-iron sign. To the tune of U2's gorgeous "The First Time," Tom Tom begins a slow-motion run across the rooftop, ending in a sprawling jump off the side. It's extremely powerful, encompassing the final moments of passion in a passionate life.

Overall, the film plays like a kind of murder mystery/crime tale, but one in which the payoff is not the most interesting part. Instead, we're invited to watch the characters' unfolding stories as they trudge through the most interesting days of their shaggy lives.

Tom Tom is the village idiot, the "beggars' butler" to all the other misfits in the hotel. He's in love with Eloise (Milla Jovovich), a sweet, beautiful bookworm who lives with her grandma, Jessica (Gloria Stuart). Jimmy Smits plays Geronimo, an angry artist who paints with roofing tar, and Peter Stormare plays Dixie, who insists he wrote most of the classic Beatles songs and talks in a Lennon-esque whine. Amanda Plummer plays a loony (again) who claims to be engaged to another hotel resident, a millionaire's son named Izzy. When Izzy (played in the final scene by Tim Roth) turns up dead at the start of the film, an FBI special agent (Mel Gibson) arrives to solve the murder.

Gibson's character, who once had an extra arm growing out of his back and now walks with a metal splint up his spine, becomes convinced that by befriending Tom Tom, he can solve the mystery... if there really is one. In the meantime, a news report mistakenly attributes Geronimo's artwork to the late Izzy, making the paintings suddenly valuable.

But this is Wenders (Wings of Desire, Buena Vista Social Club) we're talking about here, so we should know not to expect any suspense or tightly-wound plot resolutions. Like Godard, Wenders is more concerned with making movies about cinema itself. Rather than piercing the depth of characters or situations, Wenders is content simply to observe strangeness, poetry and beauty. In The Million Dollar Hotel, he dresses these things in a late-afternoon sheen and delivers them in slurred whispers. The movie comes to us from a dusty couch catching a few sunbeams from a smudgy window.

The movie's mostly bad reviews offer proof that many of us are not trained to watch movies like this. We need our movies over-explained and spoon-fed to us. But if you're tired of feeling numb, The Million Dollar Hotel is a great place to check into for a couple of hours.

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