The Grand Budapest Hotel: Quirky romp you'll want to check out
4 STARS: A STUNNING CAST AND GRIPPING SETPIECES MAKE THIS COMEDY WELL WORTH A LOOK, SAYS ANDREW JOHNSTON
Love him or loathe him, you certainly know what you're getting with a Wes Anderson film. The Grand Budapest Hotel offers more of the director's trademark stylised imagery, shameless nostalgia, a madcap storyline and a bulging cast list.
Anderson must be a lot of fun to work with because the stars have lined up once again. Ralph Fiennes and F Murray Abraham get their best roles in years, while the likes of Edward Norton, Adrien Brody and Harvey Keitel have a lot of fun with smaller parts.
In contrast to much of Anderson's recent efforts, The Grand Budapest Hotel should be fairly accessible to a multiplex audience, even if it lacks the warmth of his masterpiece to date, 1998's Rushmore. The story is a simple enough tale of a faintly desperate hotel concierge who teams up with a junior employee to prove his innocence after he's framed for murder and goes on the run. Elsewhere, there's some business about a disputed inheritance, a priceless painting and a secret society of concierges.
It's all wrapped up in fantastical visuals, with Anderson's famed attention to detail present in every carefully constructed frame. Often, it's like a live-action cartoon, most notably during a Buster Keaton-esque ski chase through the Austro-Hungarian Alps, rendered with miniatures and soundtracked by Alexandre Desplat's jazzy score.
The whole movie is gorgeous to look at and to listen to, but the chief attraction is Fiennes, cast against type as the sleazy, shifty M Gustave, a man who manages to be utterly camp and an incorrigible womaniser all at once. It's not an easy character to make believable – or likeable – but Fiennes succeeds in both regards. He's a hoot throughout, whether fetishing fancy chocolates or dousing himself in musky cologne as he preens and pontificates.
Abraham and Jude Law are also excellent in a wraparound segment, part of the film's comically overblown narrative structure. A young girl reads from a book by Tom Wilkinson's ageing writer, recalling his experiences as a young man (Law), when, on his travels around Europe, he encountered the mysterious Mr Moustafa (Abraham), who regaled him with a larger-than-life account of his youth working as a lobby boy at the Grand Budapest in its pomp between the wars. It's complicated, but once Anderson gets into the central, 1930s-set section, it just oozes along.
The young Moustafa is brought to wide-eyed life by screen newcomer Tony Revolori, who more than holds his own against the big names. Indeed, so good is Revolori, that you start to wish Anderson would just leave he and Fiennes to it. As fun as it is to see, say, Bill Murray sporting a joke-shop handlebar moustache or Jeff Goldblum having his fingers chopped off in slapstick style, the repeated star cameos do begin to grate around the one-hour mark.
Bob Balaban and Owen Wilson might as well not have bothered, while Murray's fleeting presence is another reminder of what a pity it is the legendary funnyman has largely foregone comedy to appear in minor roles in pictures such as this and The Monuments Men.
Still, taken as a whole, The Grand Budapest Hotel is pure entertainment that looks as sumptuous, seductive and snazzy as the titular lodgings once did. The one-liners work, there are some genuinely exciting action setpieces and any movie that features Willem Dafoe as a gap-toothed, knuckleduster-wearing psychopath has got to be worth checking out.