"The Million Dollar Hotel" (IMDb listing) is a decrepit building in seedy downtown Los Angeles that the confused and the uninsured call home. When a prominent guest of the hotel is killed, federal agent Skinner (Mel Gibson) is sent in to investigate. Finding himself hip-deep in eccentricity, Skinner befriends a disturbed young man named Tom Tom (Jeremy Davies) who might hold the answer to who committed the murder. As all the city's media turns their attention to the infamous hotel, Tom Tom finds love with Eloise (Milla Jovovich), a tormented young woman who doesn't believe that love can exist between two people. Co-written by Bono of the band U2, and directed by film legend Wim Wenders, "Million Dollar Hotel" is not the type of film that you would expect from such established talent. Watching it hurts, bores, and confuses. And it all begins with an actor named Jeremy Davies.
Jeremy Davies? This clammy, anemic young actor has been the focus of a lot of praise in the last two years. His role in 1998's "Saving Private Ryan" being his career highpoint. And for the life of me, I just cannot figure out why such accolades. Davies has cornered the market in fidgety characters with shady motivations since his establishing role in "Spanking the Monkey," and every performance since has been exactly alike. Every one. Davies hits an all time low in "Million Dollar" with a performance that equals Alicia Witt's bottomlessly awful turn in "Urban Legend." Davies's jumbled, pretentious role as a mentally retarded young guest of the hotel is nothing but a series of the actor's cache of tics and whistles. Some might say that it's the character and that Davies is merely servicing the written role. Sorry, but I don't buy that anymore. If Jeremy Davies wants to be inventive like his contemporaries, then he needs to craft a performance unlike any we've seen from him before. "Million Dollar" Hotel" isn't that movie.
As for the rest of the cast of "Million Dollar Hotel", it's all one big acting drill. With an ensemble that includes Jimmy Smits, Bud Cort ("Harold and Maude"), Peter Stormare ("Fargo"), Amanda Plummer, Donal Louge ("The Tao of Steve"), and Milla Jovovich ("The Fifth Element"), there ispredictablynot one single moment of silence in the whole film. No time to catch your breath before the next actor begins inhaling the scenery. They talk over each other, with each actor speaking in increasing volume. Every single role makes "Million Dollar" that much more abrasive and unpleasant. Mel Gibson, in a small supporting slot, looks thunderstruck in his FBI role, a character who wears a tight backbrace to heal extensive scarring from an operation that removed a third arm that was growing out of his back (a character detail that makes "Being John Malkovich" look subtle).
The scenes between Davies and Jovovich are especially soul-flattening. Both actors seem to be on some medieval quest to out quirk each other. Without much structure provided by Wenders, all the actors scream, flail, and grimace without any boundaries. And they all come off terribly foolish.
Simply blaming the actors for "Million Dollar Hotel's" failure is really only half of the problem. Both co-creator Bono and director Wenders are viciously talented individuals, but "Million Dollar" seems to be below their normal creative levels. It's a fanciful story, set in the glow of the laziest sun in L.A., yet Wenders handles the narrative like a volleyball, tossing it in the air with bursts of comedy, drama, and action. Then Wenders sends it over the net to Bono, who returns with showy dialog and ludicrous plotting. While the story itself isn't convoluted, the ideas interwoven into the fabric of the film are. Bono and partner Nicholas Klein find room in the story to plant gentle digs at such hot-button topics like the castaway mentality of the uninsured and the millionth jab at tactless journalism. These forays lose the focus of the central murder story, and the film suffers from it.
Coming after his spare and joyful "Buena Vista Social Club" documentary, Wim Wenders seems to overload "Million Dollar" with style but very little substance. As if the raw materials provided by Bono wasn't enough and Wenders was forced to overcompensate with inane theatrics.
Wenders makes a curious move in the opening of the picture by actually showing us the fate of the Jeremy Davies character, Tom Tom. The story is structured as a murder mystery, with the Gibson character spending the entire run of the film looking for the unknown killer. But Wenders directly contradicts this structure by showing us Tom Tom jumping off the hotel right during the opening credits. While it's impossible to give away the mystery of the film in this opening, it's a bit defeating to know that, no matter what happens during the next 120 minutes, Tom Tom is going to end up jumping off the roof of the hotel. It opens the film off on a sour note.
Although gorgeously photographed by Phedon Papamichael, "The Million Dollar Hotel" fails with it's tedious, arty filmmaking. Although blessed with amazing artistic successes, Bono and Wenders are also well known for projects that become far too bloated, and "Million Dollar Hotel" might very well be the pretentious peak for both of them.
Filmfodder Grade: D+