The Million Dollar Hotel

Directed by Wim Wenders
Starring: Jeremy Davies, Milla Jovovich, Mel Gibson, Jimmy Smits, Peter Stormare.
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content.

Review by Matt Heffernan <>
February 5, 2001

1999 saw American Beauty pulling off the Sunset Blvd. opening, and now Wim Wenders has attempted the same risky feat.

The Million Dollar Hotel opens with a young man named Tom Tom (Jeremy Davies) jumping off the roof of the building which gives the film its title. In mid-air, he begins to narrate the story of the last two weeks of his life. He worked at the Downtown Los Angeles hotel which serves as cheap housing for mental patients who can no longer afford hospital care. Tom Tom is not insane like the customers he serves, but he is severely retarded. He speaks the barely formed sentences of a three-year-old, but his internal monologue is clear and insightful.

The flashback begins shortly after the death of his best friend, Izzy, who was allegedly pushed off the hotel roof by one of the tenants. FBI Agent Skinner (Mel Gibson) investigates the case, and suspects two people. One is Izzy's roommate, Geronimo (Jimmy Smits), who made paintings of tar that he has credited to Izzy. The other is Dixie (Peter Stormare), who thinks he was one of the Beatles, and is losing out on all the royalties he deserves. Skinner believes that Tom Tom knows the killer, so he brings him into the investigation, using a girl Tom Tom likes (Milla Jovovich) to get him to talk.

Watching The Million Dollar Hotel is like seeing a version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest with Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher entirely cut out. In other words, everybody's crazy, including Skinner. Donal Logue has a small part as an LAPD detective, but most of the film deals with the warped society inside the hotel, and the volatile Agent Skinner harassing them. He wears a neck brace because of some spinal surgery which eventually explains his reaction to the "freak show" at the hotel.

Wenders is a great director (just see Wings of Desire if you need convincing) and his eye makes the film visually compelling. Davies' performance is just as brilliant, but a great deal of his scenes are with Jovovich. I can understand why Wenders cast her: she's incredibly beautiful and photogenic, and she makes a believable object of desire. However, she is not an actress, and her bewildered performance only serves to undermine the film. Her character is very complex and important to the story, but she was just unable to convey it properly.

At least Wenders didn't marry her, like Luc Besson. He didn't dress her up in Gaultier, either, which probably threw her off. Aside from Jovovich and the almost oppressive insanity, The Million Dollar Hotel is a really good film and worth sitting through the rough parts.

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The Million Dollar Hotel (2000)

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Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan