Since his directorial debut in 1988 with Stormy Monday, British writer/director/musician Mike Figgis has moved back and forth from the stylishly conventional (most famously with Leaving Las Vegas) to the dubiously experimental (most notoriously with The End of Sexual Innocence). It’s no surprise that he currently has in release both the well-crafted if creaky thriller Cold Creek Manor and the impenetrably surrealistic Hotel (actually shot in 2001). Occasionally using split and quadruple screens and offering a variety of color and visual distortion, “Hotel” is an uneasy mix of horror-movie grotesqueness and improvisational psychodrama. In Figgis’ latest self-indulgence, glimmers of a few good ideas peek out from the overwrought sludge.
There’s a movie-within-a-movie in this film, always a good way of insinuating a “What is reality?” theme. Of course, the idea is a nonstarter in a film this removed from reality to begin with. Trent Stoken (Rhys Ifans) plays a director who’s creating a version of playwright John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, one of those tragedies where possessive feelings lead to a grisly bloodbath, while Charlee Boux (Salma Hayek) is making a documentary about Stoken’s production.
Ifans plays the kind of director that one hopes is more fictional than real, the kind of hypersensitive creative talent and emotional wreck whose whims and unstable vision make for a chaotic set. Hayek plays a birdbrain who, when told that Webster was a contemporary of Shakespeare asks if he’s going to be on the set later. (Is anyone really that stupid?)
Bits of Malfi are worked into the story: a possibly feigned coma, intimations of lycanthropy, and passages from the play as it’s being filmed. The actors whisper their dialogue with barely audible intensity, but it’s doubtful if familiarity with the work is going to make the movie any more coherent. There’s a nicely sinister cameo by John Malkovich and a weirdly pointless one by Burt Reynolds. If you like your sex with droning literary quotations on the sound track accompanied by Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, you may find some of this erotic.
Mostly, Hotel is so meandering and self-consciously arty that about halfway through it disappears amid its own aspirations.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-263-2111.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail email@example.com.