Confirming how severely decades of fame and wealth will alienate artists from the culture they used to have a hand in creating, Wim Wenders’s The Million Dollar Hotel is something of a monstrosity—liquored self-indulgence taken to its own astral plane. Wenders isn’t alone on this joyride—Bono wrote the original narrative (the rooftop of the eponymous L.A. hotel is where U2 ripped off the Beatles for the “Where the Streets Have No Name” video) and coproduced the movie, along with star Mel Gibson’s Icon Pictures. Distribute the onus however you like, but the scenario’s shabby, narcoleptic hipsterism has Bono’s paw prints all over it, playing like the worst Joseph Mitchell story Charles Bukowski ever wrote.
Strung out along Wenders’s near fatal, aimless trajectory, Hotel loiters around the not-quite-authentic landmark as it is populated by a stoner’s catalog of hellishly thin fringe clichés: a semiretarded skateboarder-gofer (Jeremy Davies) who’s in puppyish love with a reclusive, chain-smoking layabout (Milla Jovovich), a paranoid American Indian (Jimmy Smits) who makes artwork out of tar, a Beatles nut (Peter Stormare) whose affected Liverpudlian accent could make your teeth grind themselves down to the roots, and various splenetic rummies and junkies (Bud Cort, Amanda Plummer, etc.). At the outset, an unseen member of this dire club has died falling off that now notorious roof, and a neck-braced fed (Mel Gibson) shows up to investigate. Why and how he manages this despite the lowlife regulars’ weakly conceived opposition is the ostensible plot, but Million Dollar Hotel rarely strays from the foggily regarded eccentricities of its menagerie, leaving Gibson’s wacky cop to wander the hallways while we watch Davies and Jovovich court each other by nuzzling like Barbary apes and blowing into each other’s mouths.
Rock star actors and even directors are to be tolerated, but let us pray that screenwriting doesn’t catch on with Fred Durst or Eddie Vedder. (As it is, Marilyn Manson’s Holy Wood still ebbs in turnaround.) All the same, this is Wenders’s crashpit, at least to the extent that he should’ve known better. Drunken punk misfit-ism got the best of him long ago; in toto, rock culture has done Wenders no favors. The trademark boozy, smoky, jukebox posturing felt fresh when the “German new wave” still seemed like a generational response to post-Nazi guilt (as in Kings of the Road), but now that Wenders has achieved a middle-aged internationalism, there’s no rationale for cask-aged, Lou Reed-scored teenage anomie. Another hazy, lazy Hotel comes to mind—Abel Ferrara’s New Rose Hotel—and both mold up the basements of maddeningly erratic careers. Like all of his fiction films since Wings of Desire, Million Dollar Hotel is Wenders searching for a thematic or emotional anchor amid the imperfect storm of his own immature whims.
Ossama Fawzi’s Fallen Angels Paradise catapults through an only slightly more convincing scum pond—which in Egypt is enough to raise the roof. According to the credits, it’s a “loose” adaptation of Jorge Amado’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, but this snarky nighttime odyssey through the Cairo demimonde has no horny ghosts, just the corpse of a pimp-junkie that nobody can seem to part with. Everyone from psycho hoods and prostitutes to the dead man’s forgotten “respectable” family stakes their claim on the poor bastard (whose body sometimes moves on its own, don’t know why), and eventually he’s stolen from his funeral and packed into a jalopy for a bleary road trip. Fawzi shoots the proceedings in clumsy, gotch-eyed spurts, and the level of incoherence is impressively high. Scandal fuel on its conservative home turf, Fallen Angels Paradise is small potatoes anywhere else.