Been on a Jim Thompson adaptation kick recently, both novels and film adaptations. This film captures his small time fucked up loser desperation universe perfectly, I don't know how close to the book A Swell Looking Dame, it is, it is next on my to read pile, but as a stand alone film it works. It's a great Neo Noir and I got a bit of a Blue VelvetLynch-esque vibe from it, though a comparatively low key vibe but in a good way.
Elias Koteas performance as Sonny the goofball night bellhop really shines. Sonny stuck in a dead end job is reduced to swiping hotel VHS players and cases of hotel booze to make ends meet. He is supporting, on his own, his mentally challenged older brother. Sonny occasionally even pimps hookers to lonely business men out of hotel rooms. After multiple viewings a fragment of cinematic memory finally "hit me", think of what a good, serious, tragic-comedic Red Skelton performance may have looked like in a film noir, some of Koteas' facial expressions are that dead on, but other comedians like Huntz Hall also come to mind. This probably flew over the heads of the then current (1996) film demographic for most of whom Skelton and Hall are non entities. But Koteas goes even further creating his own believable lunatic of a character who constantly talks to himself and habitually is physically pumping up his ego for various tasks by acting out and letting fly with compulsive manic gestures.
Koteas as Sonny
Laure Marsac as Monique Roux simmers delectably, a soiled dove-ish French Canadian griffter/hostess/hooker, the femme fatale of the film. The seemingly incessant Tacoma rains depresses her character to the point of despair. Marsac ranges all the way from waifish crumbling beauty, to sloe eyed temptress, and finally boils as a deadly Diana in an explosive chase sequence set in the streets of a deserted warehouse district. Her sole life quest focusing her character, seems to be to get to "Gay Paree" any way she can by any low life means possible. She carries an Eiffel Tower tchotchke that lights up and plays her leitmotif. It acts as a sort of dream navigation beacon to mother ship Paris. She's fun to watch.
Marsac as seductress Monique
Jay Leggett plays Sonny's childlike dependent older brother Leroy, practically house bound in a "crazy house" dwelling strewn with food containers & decorated with discarded toys. He is way over weight, a good natured human Muppet who tells Sonny that he wants to go to Foster Care because there he can eat all the ice cream he wants.
Leroy and Sonny at home
Kevin J. O'Connor is Cougar, a harelip scarred, sadistic thug of a loan shark who has recently become the hotel security man, Bruce Ramsay is Del a former bellhop buddy of Sonny who has hit the big time. He connives Sonny into a plan to rob a high stakes illegal poker game.
Cougar and Sonny top, Del bottom
Philip Baker Hall is great as Lenny Ish, the hotel's biggest client and the local mobster who grouses that he used to live in "a five star country".
William H. Macy unexpectedly shows up in a great little cameo as a homicide detective. J. C. Quinn and Haing S. Ngor play Sonny's fellow night shift employees.
The studio sets capture the cheapo 2-3 star hotel world, and a nice opening montage shows Sonny schlepping through his various dead end bellhop job duties in the bowels of hotel housekeeping, accompanied by a plucky melody that becomes Sonny's leitmotif. Later when Sonny & Monique make love their two leitmotifs combine into a nice score by Peter Manning Robinson.
Of course, being a Neo Noir everything goes terribly wrong for ridiculously simple reasons, in this case a change of diet, and the film leaves Sonny and Leroy setting off on a trip to Nowheresville, sitting in their rusty, trusty beater Chevy, orbiting the edge of the Twilight Zone in the universe of lost dreams.