A curious mix of parody and homage to film noir as simultaneously tense and tongue-in-cheek subversion of the vintage style of moviemaking, Hotel Noir conveys an affection rooted in both reverence and playful nostalgia. Which is to say that screwball and hardboiled make for rather surreal cinematic bedfellows.
Director Sebastian Gutierrez is no stranger to kooky screen collages blending serious tones with satire, in movies like Elektra Luxx and Women In Trouble. And Gutierrez goes devilishly retro this time around with Hotel Noir, as he toys with a multiplicity of elusive, unreliable narrators. And with quite an impressive collection of stars, all apparently willing to sign on as creative stimulus to wherever Gutierrez’s rather offbeat imagination may have in mind to take them.
Among the crowded roster of competing protagonists seemingly elbowing each other for attention, is Rufus Sewell as Felix. A rather despondent gumshoe holed up in an LA hotel in 1958, Felix harbors a couple of dark secrets, not to mention an attache case full of stolen mob money. As he does electronic surveillance with partner Logan (Robert Forster) on a chorus girl and former lover (Malin Akerman) referred to as high maintenance Swedish Mary. Who is actually an Italian from Milan, though maybe or maybe not.
At the same time, and in fact bookending Felix and his predicament at hand, is Eugene (Danny De Vito), a self-deprecating (‘I’m not what I expected to be’) installer of bathroom shower doors and moonlighting painter of house pets, at the moment checking into the hotel to type his memoir. Or possibly even the screenplay for this movie. And who shares customer tales of desperate housewives – and one in particular (Mandy Moore) – with well, plumbing issues of their own.
Also turning up is lounge singer Hanna Click (Carla Gugino), currently being stalked by her old flame, diminutive gangster Vance (Kevin Connolly). Though he ends up doing the hotel maid Sevilla (Rosario Dawson), because she happens to be making the rounds romantically to a number of the suites, dressed in a superhero costume. Which was given to her by Felix after she expressed enthusiastic admiration for the getup, when offering to hang it up to smooth out the wrinkles. But Sevilla sets her sights on Eugene as a soul mate instead, when the possibly suicidal scribe demonstrates appreciation for her as an intellectual hotel maid into Russian literature and opera.
Hotel Noir’s sensuous black and white visuals boast an abundance of eccentric characters out of time and place, and all wrapped up in a dreamy, booze-laced jazz score. And counting fabricators, freaks, femme fatales, tickling concubines, an unusually introspective bimbo pondering why her brain is ‘so boring,’ and existential anachronistic musings about being ‘the world’s forgotten girl with a heartful of napalm.’ Even if napalm is most commonly associated with the Vietnam war, but that may be the point.
And though the story could have been more focused with fewer punchlines, all that seems to be missing is the dame called toots (that’s what they were known as back then) perhaps remarking to her latest possible infatuation, Felix: Is that a Kalashnikov in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me.
2 1/2 stars
To see the trailer of Hotel Noir: