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With: Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe, Asia Argento, Annabella Sciorra, John Lurie, Yoshitaka Amano, Gretchen Mol, Victor Argo
Written by: Abel Ferrara and Christ Zois, based on a story by William Gibson
Directed by: Abel Ferrara
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality and language, including some sex-related dialogue
Running Time: 93
Date: 09/05/1998

New Rose Hotel (1998)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Everything old is 'New' again

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Like his fellow New Yorker Jim Jarmusch, Abel Ferrara's films often feel more European than American. As a result, they tend to be released in Europe long before they see American multiplexes, and the Europeans like them more, too. In the case of Ferrara's 1998 New Rose Hotel, the film never made it to America at all.

Following the Roxie's successful Ferrara tribute two weeks ago, New Rose Hotel finally has a proper San Francisco theatrical run, and only four years late. I shudder to think how long it will be before we can see Ferrara's newest film, R-Xmas, currently enjoying a critically acclaimed and popular run in France.

Quintessential New York actors Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe occupy the lead roles as non-descript illegitimate businessmen in New Rose Hotel. Their job is to seduce a big-shot Japanese scientist away from his family and his company, though for what purpose I wasn't able to tell.

It doesn't matter, though. The heart of the movie comes when Walken and Dafoe hire sexy singer and prostitute Sandii (Asia Argento, daughter of Suspiria director Dario Argento) to do the dirty work. Unfortunately, Dafoe falls head over heels for Sandii and screws up the whole plan.

Based on a story by William Gibson (author of the cyberpunk book Neuromancer and film Johnny Mnemonic), New Rose Hotel takes place in some vaguely futuristic world full of darkness, neon, mirrors and glass. Our heroes occupy various bars and hotel rooms that could be located anyplace from New York to Portugal to Japan.

But the movie works thanks to Walken's and Dafoe's hardcore performances. Clearly, Ferrara lets these two giants improvise a good deal of their dialogue together (just try to picture a couple of Hollywood creampuffs in these roles). Walken wears a wrinkled white suit, carries a cane and walks with a huge, swinging limp; it's all part of his enthusiastic scenery chewing. Dafoe matches him, but just barely -- he occasionally looks like he's about to crack up at some of Walken's wild inventions.

The film can be trying at times. It wraps up its storyline about 75 minutes in but spends another 15 minutes watching Dafoe laying around in a Japanese sleeper unit and flashing back, going over the movie's incidents again. This epilogue repeats some sequences twice but surprises us with new scenes as well. Best of all is Walken's line, convincing Sandii to go through with the plan (you can just hear his hesitating, sinister coo), "This is your ticket outta the boneyard. You're dead, in case you didn't know it. You just don't have the sense to lie down."

I'm sure Ferrara thought he had a sure thing on his hands: along with Walken, Dafoe and Argento, he managed to land Annabella Sciorra, John Lurie, Gretchen Mol and Victor Argo, all playing small roles. (Mol doesn't even have any dialogue, if I recall correctly.)

But New Rose Hotel is a clear-cut case of style over substance. Ferrara makes it work by not making anything easy, and not delivering anything homogenized or dumbed-down. He has the guts to invite us in to this world, to stay if we like it and to get the hell out if we don't.

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