31 December 2011 | proterozoic
The Future is Blurry
Abel Ferrara found himself in a MacGyver situation: to improvise a cyberpunk film with a) several very good actors, b) a camcorder, c) an impressive but extremely short and sketchy story by William Gibson, d) futuristic props consisting entirely of a PDA (google it, kids) and a half-bitten circuit board, and e) $600 bucks for expenses.
This is all conjecture on my part, based on nothing more than having seen New Rose Hotel. Can you blame me? After hacking off all the stylistic coir, the story is as such: it's the Future. The most profitable form of industrial espionage is stealing human talent. Two threadbare hijack artists, played by Walken and Dafoe, will lure a brilliant scientist named Hiroshi from Evil Megacorp to Mega Evilcorp. They will use a magnetic temptress that they pick from a squirming Shinjuku flesh pit based on her skill at fellating a karaoke mic.
Asia Argento is the girl – the actress has, the rarity of rarities! not only sex appeal but enough charisma and acting ability to work the part. Unfortunately, the singing is bad, and the songs are bad, and the sexy bar where they are performed is not very sexy at all. While we're at it, the future is not all that futuristic. The sex, of which there is plenty, is made up of cuts, quick pans and motion blur. The seduction and abduction of Hiroshi is talked about exhaustively, but would have been pedestrian even if it didn't entirely take place off-camera.
In brief, the amount of abstraction and suspension required to enjoy – if I may use such a bold term – "New Rose Hotel" hangs some serious lifting on the viewer. Discounting the bland nudity, the only distinct pleasure is watching Christopher Walken's line delivery. The one other actor who gets to do anything of note is his partner in crime, Willem Dafoe; unfortunately, his arc comes down to getting warned severely against falling in love with Argento's character, then falling in love with her like a man taking a headfirst dive on a concrete slab.
Some people have called this movie confusing, but they are dumb. The plot is crystal clear. It's simple as a triangle. Others have called it a boring, flickering mess, which is a much harder charge to beat. You know those "reveal" montages where the main character figures out the horrible secret? They're all made up the same way, with ominous music getting louder in the background, snippets of flashback picked half-second at a time from various parts of the movie, and key lines of dialogue played over and over, with an echo effect added on top.
The entire movie plays like one of those. A relatively simple story is packed inside a fifteen-layered rebus of headache, eyestrain and tinnitus as you squint to figure out what's on screen. If this is how the regular narrative plays, then as a parting fillip, the entire last half hour of the movie is made up of an actual flashback montage as one of the characters, soon to be found and killed by his enemies, is reliving past mistakes and pleasures in a dinky hotel room.
Some have complained about this sequence because it goes on for about 20 minutes after even the densest of us have figured out every plot secret. I think they're missing the point – the scene isn't a reveal, but the fevered, looping memories of a man who's about to kick off the chair. As such, it has a good deal of pathos. However, in the end, it's not really all that interesting, good-looking or original. And way, way too long.
The central question of New Rose Hotel is as follows: is there any reason at all to watch this dizzy 90-minute montage, when you could read the original short story in 15 minutes? None, actually. Unless you are enough of a stim addict to prefer watching any sort of dull video to reading any kind of engaging prose.