Abel Ferrara's "New Rose Hotel" opens with murky surveillance footage. Hiroshi (Yoshitaka Amano), a brilliant researcher, is being observed by Fox (Christopher Walken) and X (Willem Dafoe), two corporate extraction specialists. Fox hopes to manipulate Hiroshi into leaving Maas, the transnational corporation at which he works, in favour for joining Hosaka, a rival corporation. Whoever controls Hiroshi controls big bucks.
What's odd about this surveillance footage, though, is that X is also being observed. So who, if not Fox and X, is ultimately behind the extraction of Hiroshi? And who is watching all three characters?
"Hotel's" second scene takes place in a shadowy brothel. "There's a war being waged for every shred of information," Fox is told, "and the corporate suits are killing each other by the thousands every year. It's the Holocaust of the 21st century. Everybody knows, nobody says anything and governments are just as culpable." The speaker then tries to sell Fox a job pushing cutting edge viruses, but Fox ignores him, more interested in the sultry female bodies gyrating in a corner. Moments later Fox has a conversation with Madam Rosa, the brothel owner. "I've given up looking for knowledge and virtue", Fox admits, the guy now existing solely to chase after cash and sex. This pursuit's gotten his back broken; Fox limps with a cane.
As Ferrara's camera zooms in on Fox, a lounge singer stops singing about "looking for love without love" and starts singing about a woman whose "soul's as black as black". Enter Sandii (the smoky eyed Asia Argento), a prostitute who takes to a microphone. "I loved you for forever and a day but you walked away," she prophetically sings. Fox gets an idea: he'll use Sandii to seduce Hiroshi away from Maas. Afterall, Fox says, Hiroshi has everything – money, riches, status – except love. Fox will provide the love. But is Madam Rosa planting Sandii to get at Fox? Is Sandii ultimately seducing Fox and not Hiroshi?
Fox, X and Sandii begin putting their plan into motion. Along the way, X falls in love with Sandii and she, apparently, with him. "Let's make believe," she says in their living room, as she strokes Fox's ego under the guise of stroking Hiroshi's. Fox is hooked. She's his ticket to Hiroshi and Hiroshi, on the brink of patenting "high speed proteins", is Fox's ticket to millions. We then learn that it is Madam Rosa supplying Fox with surveillance footage and that Madam Rosa is being bankrolled by Maas. Fox, unaware that he is being set-up, remains optimistic. "The new virtue," Fox says, "is going to the edge. This plan takes us to the edge!"
Holding onto virtue becomes the dilemma of the film's last act. Here Sandii reveals that she is "really in love with X" and that she "doesn't wish to continue a false relationship with Hiroshi". X, in turn, is madly in love with Sandii. The duo contemplate running away together. Whether Sandii is being genuine is unknown – she used the same words and ploy on Hiroshi – but this love affair, be it real or simulated, is nevertheless enough to set in motion a chain reaction, X's handlers (Fox and Hosaka) and Sandii's "real handlers" (Madam Rosa and Maas) now deciding to do a little spring cleaning. Fox is thus killed, possibly Sandii as well, and assassins are sent for X. It is also revealed that Maas was allowing the defection of Hiroshi so that a virus carried by him infects all other scientists at Hosaka. This is the synthetic virus alluded to in Rosa's brothel, a virus that may have been administered by Sandii.
That Maas (Maas: "more", "limitless") has won this little game of corporate Darwinism is of no concern to Ferrara. Instead, he devotes the last 30 minutes of his film to a massive flashback sequence. Here, locking himself in a "capsule hotel", X "rewinds" and "fast forwards" through the film we have just watched, searching memory engrams for clues that Sandii betrayed and so did not love him. A reversal of Ferrara's "Blackout", in which a character realizes that he was blind to and so missed the virtues of lovers around him, "Hotel" portrays X indulging in a game of selective memory and mental re-writing. Whereas most climactic flashback sequences seek to quickly and dramatically draw attention to clues which audiences may have overlooked, Ferrara's flashback takes the form of a slow, pathetic descent into, not revelation, but delusion. By its end, X has misread clues, has misconstrued Sandii's love as deception, has convinced himself that Sandii was "never genuine" and has rationalised that it was he who had "been used and betrayed" rather than her. "If you want to, you can walk away," Fox sees himself telling Sandii, the very challenge she in actuality put to him. More importantly, Fox has begun eradicating his belief in virtue. If everyone around you wants something, X rationalises, then nobody could possibly want to give you anything, let alone love. By the film's end, X's philosophy ("How much more money must you make? What else is ahead?") has been replaced by Fox's cynicism ("That's lust, not love!"), and Sandii, whom X refused to run away with out of loyalty to Fox's ethos, becomes the little girl betrayed and lost on the altar of profit.
"New Rose Hotel" was based on a short story by cyberpunk novelist William Gibson. Like Gibson's novels, it is set in a high tech future rife with social decay, warring factions, technology-savvy low-lives, corporate prostitutes, killer DNA, research which advances faster than it can be stolen and shady bodies who have long realised that the best way to control the opposition is to finance it. Typical of Gibson's work, the tale relies heavily on noir tropes.
Review by tieman64 from the Internet Movie Database.