The City of Absurdity   HOTEL ROOM


Three Vacancies For 'Hotel Room'

By Terry Kelleher, Staff Writer, Newsday, January 8, 1993

DAVID LYNCH called his new HBO drama special "Hotel Room," but he should have lifted the title of a 20-year-old Bob Hope bomb - "Cancel My Reservation."

Even if you're a diehard "Twin Peaks" freak who's incorrigibly wild at heart, you'll be itching to check out of this 90-minute trilogy (premiering tonight at 11) long before the door finally closes on the tedious doings in Room 603 of the Railroad Hotel in New York City. They could find Laura Palmer's corpse in the closet and you wouldn't care a whit.

With Monty Montgomery, Lynch is the co-creator and co-executive producer of "Hotel Room." He directed two episodes, both written by Barry Gifford, author of the novel on which Lynch's movie "Wild at Heart" was based. Credit for the third script goes to Jay McInerney, of "Bright Lights, Big City" fame.

On the plus side, their efforts yielded one memorable bit of black comedy - the ending of McInerney's "Getting Rid of Robert." On the minus side, there's everything else.

The opening visuals and voice-over are so pretentious ("For a millennium, the space for the hotel room existed, undefined . . .") that you figure Lynch must be onto himself this time. Perhaps self-indulgence will blossom into witting self-parody. But the first episode, "Tricks," quickly dashes our hopes. And that's about all it does quickly. Glenne Headley plays a hooker and Harry Dean Stanton is her ill-at-ease john. When Stanton at last is ready to partake of Headley's favors, they're interrupted by a gross mystery man (Freddie Jones) who swills bourbon, makes cryptic references to his past dealings with Stanton and eventually has his way with Headley - while Stanton miserably begs him to desist.

The twist ending is obviously intended to fool us into thinking we've just sat through something other than a half-hour of utter nonsense.

At least the ending of "Getting Rid of Robert" - not to be revealed here - somewhat redeems the sloppy direction by James Signorelli, the strained bitchiness of the dialogue and the lackluster acting of Deborah Unger, as a woman awaiting an assignation with her arrogant lover, and Chelsea Field and Mariska Hargitay, as the female friends who keep her company 'til the heel (Griffin Dunne) shows up. When Dunne spells out Unger's flaws, the cruel words might have more impact if her hair weren't blocking our view of his face.

Apparently concerned that "Tricks" made too many concessions to conventional dramaturgy, Lynch and Gifford allowed absolutely nothing of interest to happen in the concluding episode, "Blackout." A power failure forces a man (Crispin Glover) and his wife (Alicia Witt) to huddle by candlelight in Room 603 as they talk around and around the subject of their small boy's accidental death. The only surprise is that Glover plays the saner one.

The episodes are set in 1969, 1992 and 1936, respectively, but the same ageless bellboy and maid are on duty in all three. For a millennium, they wished the guests in 603 would put out the "Do Not Disturb" sign . . .

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© Mike Hartmann