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The Million Dollar Hotel


The Million Dollar Hotel

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As a hard-nosed special agent in Wim Wenders' chaotic noir comedy The Million Dollar Hotel, Mel Gibson wears a metallic back brace that wraps around his neck, holding his entire body straight and limiting his head movement to slow bionic turns. It's later explained that the brace was necessitated by the amputation of a third arm growing out of his back. But for practical purposes, it seems more like a means to keep Gibson from fleeing the set in horror; as with Melanie Griffith in Cecil B. Demented, Gibson seems to have had his marquee talents hijacked by a ragtag collective of indie revolutionaries. Working from a story co-credited to Bono (who also contributes to the fine soundtrack, along with Jon Hassell, Daniel Lanois, and Brian Eno), Wenders sets Gibson loose among the half-crazed misfits populating a dingy flophouse in downtown Los Angeles. Assigned to investigate the alleged murder of a billionaire's son, Gibson is led through a coterie of eccentrics by an inexplicably wired Jeremy Davies, who twitches and leaps and scurries about like an ADD child with a full bladder. By shrewdly coaxing Davies to seduce the object of his affection, a bookish waif played by Milla Jovovich, Gibson unearths a handful of possible suspects, most notably a Native American painter (Jimmy Smits) with a criminal history. But since the "murder" was almost certainly a suicide, The Million Dollar Hotel is an anti-whodunit, so overstuffed with colorful loons that it plays like a symphony of cloying affectations. In addition to Davies and Jovovich, there's Titanic's Gloria Stuart as a foul-mouthed old matron, Peter Stormare as a Liverpudlian who claims to be an uncredited member of The Beatles, and other cultish weirdoes such as Amanda Plummer, Bud Cort, and Richard Edson. In many ways a companion piece to Wenders' 1997 feature The End Of Violence, the film takes a similarly alluring view of L.A. as an Edward Hopper painting come to life, with lonelyhearts lurking behind every hotel window. Were it strictly a mood piece, The Million Dollar Hotel would be an unqualified success, thriving solely on Wenders' command of dense, melancholic atmospherics. The problems only kick in when people start speaking. Wenders has never been a master storyteller, and his indifference to even the most basic plotting and characterization is rivaled only by his inability to rein in the overwrought performances. Gibson may be the only person to walk away from this mess relatively unscathed—not because he does interesting work, but because his bafflement is so obvious.