Mike Figgis takes the experimentation he did with “Timecode” a step further here, combining the multi-screen approach with just about every other film technique imaginable. The problem isn’t the style; it’s the story.
Set around a Venice hotel, it focuses on a Dogme movie crew with a freewheeling director (Rhys Ifans) and an edgy producer (David Schwimmer), a pushy TV journalist (Salma Hayek) and the strange nighttime goings-on of the hotel staff (Julian Sands, Chiara Mastroianni, Danny Huston, et al). People are disappearing, the director is in a lucid coma, the actors (Saffron Burrows, Max Beesley, Jason Isaacs, et al) are carrying on. A hitman (Andrea Di Stefano) is on the loose. And so on.
For the record, the et als above include the likes of Burt Reynolds, John Malkovich, Lucy Liu, Heathcote Williams, Valeria Golino and Ornella Muti. There are some strokes of genius in this film, of course, but it’s just far too bizarre to work. The plot is so insane that we never get a grip on what’s going on, so we never care at all about the characters or situations.
This leaves it feeling soulless, like a big moviemaking in-joke we’re left outside of, poking fun at Dogme and playing on porn and horror genres with over-the-top sex and violence, while major chunks of “The Duchess of Malfi” overwhelm the story completely.
On the other hand, Figgis comes up with some terrific scenes — comedy and drama that’s both funny and creepy (like David Lynch), and above all astonishing experimentation with cameras, film stocks, editing and improvisation. Yet despite the bits that work brilliantly, the movie as a whole really only works as an experimental curiosity.