New Rose Hotel
written and directed by Abel Ferrara
based on the short story by William Gibson
starring Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe, Asia Argento, Yoshitako Amano, Gretchen Mol, Annabella Sciorra
Based on a thirteen page William Gibson story this film dissolves into a fledgling, constipated visual enema. Degeneration and dissolution are surely given the opulent treatment here and the film projects an urgency of decay and despair. Two con men espionage agents hit on a quick scheme to fill their coffers. Fox (Walken) and X (Dafoe) have worked out a deal to convince a future-shaking scientist named Hiroshi (Amano) who is working for the Maas Corporation to defect to Hosaka, another brutally efficient corporate titan. They use raw, unadulterated sex in the form of prostitute Sandii (Argento) whom they convince to seduce Hiroshi for the sum of a million dollars. Sandii is a trick card and her machinations prove to upset the fine balance held in the hands of the two men.
This film often seems to be little more than a series of wonky sex scenes and a whole lot of abstract scene selection. Indeed, Argento spends much of the film exposed and normally this would make for a thoroughly satisfying cinematic experience. However here there is simply nothing inherently seductive about her nude scenes. It?s almost impossible to imagine but the vision of a nude Asia Argento is actually wasted here. It seems unfathomable but the film makers manage to create a work that makes a naked Asia into a secondary concern. The lighting doesn?t do her justice and her body isn?t quite given the opportunity for full expression. The scenes feel staged and utterly lacking in even a semblance of erotic potency. Now, Hiroshi?s wife (Mol) on the other hand does not take her clothes of and is infinitely more desirable than Sandii. She is all steely eyes and haughty presentation and best of all she is described as a ball-buster. This is a woman who could tyrannize a man with a simple glance. She possesses all of the simplicity of a woman of great power.
The film certainly plays with a dystopian aesthetic and is convincing as a piece of generic hysteria-bating but the style is sabotaged by a weak narrative that just doesn?t have much of a pulse. The film is mainly an excuse to cart out finely-toned flesh and make it writhe and grind as much as possible. The sex scenes could not be less erotic as they are too formulated to create anything remotely approaching a direct erotic response. It doesn?t matter how many times sex is employed in this film because it proves to do nothing more than interrupt the story for what it is. It?s clearly an attempt, in concordance with the fragmented images prevalent throughout the film, to convey an art-house feel but it turns out to be nothing more than an example of indulgence on the part of the director. If they were hot scenes and one honestly felt that Asia was fully engaged, perhaps it might have been more effective. Admittedly, there is something thrilling to see her pout and purr for the duration of ninety minutes. In a better film this would be more of a cause for celebration.
We never meet Hiroshi and are introduced to him strictly through surveillance cameras who have tracked him over the course of a considerable length of time. Subsequently he haunts the film and the viewer sits in giddy anticipation as to what will finally happen to him. Alas we never get full satisfaction and it?s yet another example of how frustrating this story actually is.
The film actually ends two thirds of the way through. The rest of the time is spent in a series of flashbacks that offer a bit more dialog than when they were first presented. They don?t offer anything particularly noteworthy and it?s a drag to be subjected to so much that has already been revealed. It?s a strange technique and is ostensibly designed to articulate the deep regret of X as he relives his encounters with Sandii. He is too attached to her and believes her promises although they soon are shown to be fraudulent and fraught with treachery.
Overall, the performances in this film seem static and in need of oxygen. Christopher Walken plays the same daffy eccentric he always plays. Willem Dafoe is given few opportunities to fully embrace his character and often seems to be playing the role under protest. Yet, they both fit the film quite easily and somehow their performances convey the emptiness of their characters. Fox is presented as something of an intellectual but Walken delivers his lines so sardonically that it?s difficult to truly believe anything he is trying to say. His character is trying to be sincere but there is absolutely nothing sincere about him. In many ways both characters are ciphers who are merely one-dimensional without considerable warmth or depth or anything else that forces audiences to identify with them on screen. But at least Walken dances as he always does and that?s always worth something. Asia Argento doesn?t exactly have to act much in this one so it?s simply not possible to gain a full understanding of her talent in this area. She?s mostly exceedingly lovely eye candy and looks quite natural with her breasts bared. Still, a lot more actual seduction without the pedestrian look-see would have transformed this film into more of a bonafide erotic thriller along the line of John Dahl?s ?The Last Seduction?.