New Rose Hotel (1998)

This film is driven by the utterly devastating double act of Willem Dafoe as “X” and Christopher Walken as “Fox”, in what are their only co-starring roles on-screen (because otherwise, the world would collapse from the combined weight of their awesomeness). Both are involved in the seedy world of corporate espionage; Walken the work-orientated master and Dafoe the experienced but more money-focused journeyman. They have managed to get a job extracting Hiroshi, a highly valuable R&D scientist (played, mostly through video surveillance and sci-fi filters, by  Yoshitaka Amano) from his current job to a new place of employment. To do this they have recruited Sandi (Asia Argento) to seduce him.

What follows is the story of a hundred cyberpunk thrillers, but told from the viewpoint of the money-men who put the job together. Other than extended sequences of training Sandi how to be a creature of Hiroshi’s dreams, and one “blink and you’ll miss it” meeting with a couple of heavies in the toilets of a bar, the audience witnesses F and Fox conceiving, plotting, and then watching the action happen from a distance. The various twists and turns of the operation are reported to them, rather than experienced first-hand, through phone calls and video links – leaving them plenty of time to talk.

And talk they do, regularly and with great aplomb. It gets very easy to forget what’s going on in the plot, or even that there is a hit happening in the background, as you are mesmerized by the simple joy of two great actors working together. The relationship between the two is the main core of the film, but that mostly evolves through them discussing anything but what’s happening off-screen. They just talk, like two co-workers in a futuristic setting that is “20 minutes in the future” thus often looks like our present. They talk in hotel rooms, elevators, shopping centers, brothels, and bars. They talk and they talk, and it’s mostly about nothing. And it’s great because it’s Walken and Dafoe.

When the plot is rude enough to interrupt, it’s mostly in the shape of Sandi and the growing relationship between her and X. These conversations are a lot more focused on the tasks ahead, and provide tension between X and Fox, as Fox advises his partner not to sleep with their employee. There is also a highly tense scene once Sandi actually seduces Hiroshi, with X’s jealousy and protectiveness kicking her and Sandi pointing out, quite rightly, that he’s angry at her for doing the very thing he told her to do. Their dalliance is also the source of the numerous sex scenes in the film, frequently showing a lot of boobs, butts, and generalised grinding and moaning. A couple seem a bit extended to fill up the run time, but there’s also a lot of Dafoe’s arse in it for fans of that body part.  Needless to say, there’s more female nudity and we get to see a lot of Asia Argento, but at least there was an attempt at parity.

Eventually, the whole scheme falls apart, in a twist that is semi-predictable but still nicely executed. We are then exposed to the pair running for their lives, although again this is shown in a very low key with minimal action. When violence finally happens, it is over very briefly, feeling sudden and a bit bizarrely executed due to a lack of conventional buildup. However, this is nothing compared to the madness of the film’s final sequence.

Hunkered down, in the grubbiest and most industrial sci-fi set of the film so that we know things have hit rock-bottom, we are treated to a twenty-minute-long third act flashback explaining the twist. Whilst there are a couple of bits we hadn’t seen previously; it mostly reuses previous shots to show everything the audience had quite happily worked out for itself previously. This carries on and on and on, hammering home the point to the level of kicking the whole film into the Trash. Whilst it is, in itself, a nice sequence that shows the mental state of the rememberee, it ends up feeling like overkill and covers enough ground that it could be its own 30-minute film.

Therein lies the reason that this can’t be classed as Treasure, despite the unrelentingly brilliant cast, the utterly refreshing viewpoint of the story, and the magnificent realisation of its world setting. This could have been an outstanding hour-long work, but it got visibly stretched too thin. There are so many moments that you will love and adore, but there are also chunks, extensively in the final third, where you will quietly mutter “yes… we know!”.

They ran out of plot, and rather than deviate from the source, they retold it and made the audience feel condescended-to. It’s all very art-house, it’s all wonderfully shot and beautifully acted, but it’s stuff we have already seen and felt. It stays at a consistently low level “well, yes. Yes, that sure is a bummer…” for far too long. I can happily suggest that fans of great acting and innovative cyberpunk give it a go, but I will have to add in “but feel free to skip to the end when it gets repetitive”.

The Raggedyman

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