HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Saturday, March 13, 2010

HOTEL CALIFORNIA -- movie review by porfle

While HOTEL CALIFORNIA (2008) seems at first to be just another modern gangster flick about young hoods on the come-up clashing with older and more powerful crime lords, it soon reveals itself to be much more thoughtful and character-driven than the usual SCARFACE knockoff. At the same time, the writing, acting, and technical qualities also distinguish it in other ways from the majority of such films.

Troy (Erik Palladino) is a small-time hood who, along with his boys Al (Tyson Beckford) and Pete (Simon Rex), works for a ruthless crime boss named Dimitri (Raymond J. Barry). When Troy is double-crossed by Latino drug dealer Manny Ramos (Douglas Spain), he disobeys Dimitri's orders not to stir up trouble between the two gangs and goes on a bloody campaign of revenge that leaves innocent victims in its wake. In a flash, both Dimitri and Manny's brother Hector (Yancey Arias, LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD) are out to get him, with his new girlfriend Jessie (a very cute Tatyana Ali) getting caught in the crossfire.

Troy disappears, only to show up back in L.A. two years later minus a leg (the result of yet another botched deal) but with a deviously clever scheme to settle all business with Dimitri and Hector while sorting out just which of his friends betrayed him and why. After a tense meeting between Troy, Al, and Pete in a rundown hotel room, the various factions converge in a bullet-riddled showdown that leaves dead gangsters all over the place.

Palladino, who played the volatile Seaman Mazzola in U-571 and has also appeared in such TV series as "NCSI", "ER", and "Joan of Arcadia", gives a convincing performance as Troy and manages somehow to make him likable despite the fact that he's only somewhat less scummy than those around him. Beckford proves once again that he's more than just a supermodel turned actor, while Rex also does a good job in his role. Familiar character actor Raymond J. Barry, known for such films as FALLING DOWN, BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, and WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY, is excellent as the scary and sometimes bloodthirsty Dimitri--his speech about a childhood incident that turned him into a killer , which he delivers through gritted teeth in extreme closeup, is gripping.

Although there aren't any good guys in the story, Troy is the most loyal and honorable of the bad guys and expects the same from his crew. And because he is "good" by default since he confines his violent acts to his criminal peers (barring the occasional stray bullet) and has a relative sense of morality--like Blondie and Harmonica in Sergio Leone's westerns--we're able to root for him and even admire his cunning and perseverence. Ironically, one of Troy's fiercest enemies, Hector, also has our sympathy due to the suffering Troy has inadvertently caused him by way of collateral damage, as we discover late in the story. We still side with Troy, yet both are justified in their lust for revenge.

Director Geo Santini is a scintillating visual storyteller who keeps things interesting with creative camera angles (which only occasionally get a little too decorative) and plenty of style. The screenplay by Christine Conradt, known mainly for her Lifetime Channel thrillers but here revisiting some of the same territory she explored in the above-average gang drama GHETTO DAWG 2: OUT OF THE PITS, is lean and to the point.

Without the usual showy dialogue, fanciful characters, or dazzling stunts, there's a naturalistic feel to the film's characters and events. The present-day scenes are carefully interwoven with the backstory until the missing pieces begin to fall into place and mysteries are revealed one by one. While the action and graphic violence serve the story rather than overwheming it, there's still plenty of both, and the film builds up to some pretty riveting moments.

The DVD is from Maya Entertainment and is scheduled for a March 23, 2010 release. I watched a screener so I can't comment on DVD details.

While HOTEL CALIFORNIA satisfies on a gritty action level, it doesn't simply excite us with visceral thrills for their own sake--it's a deeply-involving mood piece as well. Contemplative, melancholy, relatively subdued, and visually compelling, it's not so much a rollercoaster ride as it is an uneasy stroll on the bad side of town.

Buy it at

No comments: