Century Hotel Directed by David Weaver Written by David Weaver and Bridget Newson Starring Lindy Booth, Colm Feore, Mia Kirshner Classification: AA Rating: **
Century Hotel boasts one of those narrative conceits that seems nifty in theory but usually falls flat in practice. The conceit -- more of a gimmick, really -- allows the writer to string a series of disparate stories and characters around a connecting device. The result is the kind of "portmanteau" flick that has us following a $20 bill, or a red violin, from place to place and owner to owner. In this case, as the title suggests, the connective is a stationary hotel room and the time frame virtually the whole of the 20th century. If that sounds ambitious, it is -- way too ambitious.
Never straying from Room 720, the film starts on the very eve of the millennium, flashes back to the hotel's opening in the early 1920s, then careers through the intervening decades. Each juncture, seven in total, introduces a separate plot involving a different twosome or threesome. In practical terms, you can understand what drew director/co-writer David Weaver to the premise. Because he was making his feature debut on the proverbial shoe-string budget, his directorial self must have persuaded his writerly self to fashion a scenario that could be shot principally on a single set -- the better to cut costs to the bone.
Nothing wrong with that. However, as if to make amends, the script attempts to inject a hugely expansive theme into this budgetarily constricted setting. As befits a hotel room, the tales all revolve around the issues of sex and love and their attendant chicanery. Weaver cuts to and fro among the developing stories, with the immodest goal of showing how our social-sexual attitudes have -- and have not -- changed over the course of the century. At the end, he throws in a plot twist linking the first and last chapters of the chronology, thereby creating a circularity that's meant to convince us that we're actually watching a cohesive movie.
Nice try, but I ain't buying. That's because none of the seven tales is sufficiently developed to engage our full interest or, for that matter, our complete comprehension. The characters -- who range from jazz-age flappers to imported Chinese brides, from returning war vets to reclusive rock stars -- are transparent symbols at best and mere ciphers the rest of the time. Consequently, the most tempting response is: Who the hell are these people and why should I care?
Admittedly, the ensemble cast works very hard to answer that question. An impressive array of Canadian actors -- including Colm Feore, Tom McCamus, Mia Kirshner and (in a dual role) Lindy Booth -- do a nice job of fleshing out their individual parts. The problem isn't with them but with the arithmetic -- the parts just don't add up to much.
As for Weaver, he's no less ambitious with the camera than the pen, striving to shoot the various vignettes in a style that conforms to their particular era. It's a bit of a film-school exercise, yet Weaver flashes some talent here and, occasionally at least, the picture packs a real visual charge.
But not always. Watch for an extended scene where a blindfolded man slowly dresses a gorgeous woman. The sequence wants to be lyrically sensuous, but the rhythm is all wrong and the effect is TV-ad banal.
And so, one more film, built on the shaky ground of a gimmicky narrative, amounts to little. Grand only in design, Century Hotel is, in truth, a bit of a flea-trap.