At the Movies: 'Million Dollar Hotel'

Wednesday, January 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Tom Tom is the lowest man on the totem pole, even in the world of losers found in director Wim Wenders' new film, ``The Million Dollar Hotel.''

Jeremy Davies plays the semi-retarded Tom Tom, who is known as the ``beggar's butler'' at a Los Angeles flophouse because he joyfully runs errands for its low-life tenants.

When a terse FBI agent (Mel Gibson) arrives to investigate the death of a heroin addict who plunged from the hotel's roof, he targets Tom Tom as the weak link he needs to break the case.

The movie is full of colorfully written personalities and a curious plot that winds its way through comedy and romance but can't escape the tragic loneliness of its characters.

Wenders, however, sucks the life out of the whole enterprise with his self-indulgent, molasses pacing and seeming contempt for cohesive storytelling.

The film is so frustratingly boring that it's hard to care about anything that happens — even though the tale itself is fundamentally interesting.

Worst of all, Wenders seems to have instructed some of his actors to place ellipses between each word of dialogue. Watching this ensemble of talented performers struggle to add vibrance and humanity to their offbeat roles is like seeing a group of Olympic swimmers drown in a wading pool.

Gibson plays Skinner, the federal agent commissioned by a shadowy billionaire (Harris Yulin) to find out who killed the rich man's son — even if no one killed him. Suicide is an unacceptable conclusion.

Skinner befriends Tom Tom, who looks like a deranged imp with wild, black hair that has one buzz-cut strip down the middle. Skinner tries to convince Tom Tom to help him frame a woman at the hotel (Milla Jovovich) by promising he'll get her to like him.

Meanwhile, Skinner shakes up the other regulars at the hotel, who include a trash-talking old lady (Gloria Stuart), a John Lennon-lookalike who thinks he wrote most of the Beatles' hits (Peter Stormare), and a disgraced Hollywood agent named Shorty (Bud Cort).

Jimmy Smits plays Geronimo, the ringleader of the bunch who orchestrates a scheme to sell his ``tar paintings'' after a local news crew mistakenly reports that they were painted by the billionaire's dead son.

Skinner is by far the most interesting character, with his strange metal backbrace and gruesome scars running the length of his spine. The bizarre explanation for these characteristics is one reason to keep watching.

Wenders fans who enjoy his lugubrious work will likely enjoy ``The Million Dollar Hotel.'' His sunset vistas of Los Angeles, set to the music of U2, are admittedly beautiful. His camera work also shows occasional flourishes, such as a scene in which Davies appears to be suspended on the wall in a bathtub.

The dialogue also manages to display some cleverness in spite of Wenders' overwhelmingly dull pacing. Consider this from Tom Tom's narration: ``I played dumb. I suppose Skinner was playing dumb, too, but he was out of his league.''

U2's lead singer, Bono, who co-wrote the story with Nicholas Klein, also served as a producer on ``The Million Dollar Hotel.'' He's known for pouring tremendous energy into his songs.

That excitement is present in this movie thanks to the strong cast, but it's muted — no thanks to Wenders.

``The Million Dollar Hotel'' is rated R for language, violence and some sexuality. Running time: 122 minutes.


Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G — General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.