The shock of seeing so much delightfully knowing technique on screen could win the film both some enthusiastic reviews and good word-of-mouth, giving it some sleeper possibilities.
The title hostelry is a courtyard setup in Anaheim, Calif., managed by the snooping Mr. Perry (Paul Bartel
). It's the late '50s, and around the motel's impossibly blue swimming pool, four period stereotypes meet: salesman Chester DeSoto (Whip Hubley
), locked in eternal bickering with his sexy wife Bridey (Sherilyn Fenn); "Deadpan'' Winchester (David Hewlett
), a goateed beatnik who's been institutionalized for criminal psychosis; and sleazy Auggie March (David Johansen
), who is simultaneously blackmailing Chester and sleeping with Bridey.
"Deadpan'' has been hired by a suspicious Chester to spy on Bridey, which is only the first move in a strategy of mistrust, betrayal and two-timing that engages the four principals. The chicanery unfolds mostly from Bridey's perspective, which is tough for the audience since she suffers from two separate bouts of amnesia.
However, though the wild complications are part of the send-up, the film never plays fast-and-loose with them, and there is a crazy logic to the plot progressions.
However, it's the look that really sells the picture. The color evokes the overripe Technicolor of the period, while the compositions and preoccupation with female anatomy harken back to '50s fashion and advertising photography. Movement within the frame is similarly stylized, with rhyming elements constantly in motion.
The soundtrack is full of cocktail lounge jukebox melodies, a la Julie London
, while costumes and production design are also dead-on.
On the down side, there's no one to root for here; everyone is either a bastard or a fall guy, and the film's icy detachment toward its characters may turn some off. The most sympathetic character ends up undone, an indication of misanthropy lurking under the dazzling surface.
DESIRE & HELL AT SUNSET MOTEL
TWO MOOON RELEASING
Heron Communications and Image Organization present a Donal P. Borchers Production
Writer-director Alien Castle
Producer Donald P. Borchers
Production designer Michael Clausen
Editor James Gavin
Director of photography Jamie Thompson
Music Alien Castle
, Doug Walter
Bridey DeSoto Sherilyn Fenn
Chester DeSoto Whip Hubley
"Deadpan" Winchester David Hewlett
Auggie March David Johansen
Mr. Perry Paul Bartel
Running time -- 90 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
(c) The Hollywood Reporter