Bennie has just arrived in Liverpool, obviously on business, but the details are sketchy. He arrives at this gorgeous hotel that has about as many quirks as any place I've seen on film. The doors have no room numbers, the hallways are a maze, and everything is completely dark. It is agonizing watching this man drag all of his luggage through such emptiness, we can only sympathize with him. But it is a minor tragedy, afterall, and soon Bennie finds his room. That's how this film is structured, a series of miniscule and minor tragedies painting an oddly dark landscape. Having set up shop with his computer, printer, and coffee pot (in a jacuzzi suite that has only one electrical outlet), Bennie soon finds himself bored. He goes through books, paces around, blesses the room with sage smoke... Yes, this is an odd little movie. But we see that he is waiting for something, he keeps glancing at his cell phone... Nobody calls, so Bennie decides the best bet is to find something to eat.
The hotel's restaurant is this wide open ballroom, as beautiful as it is obnoxious with an abundance of chandeliers and very bright lighting... It is empty, sans one other person. Bennie is seated next to another businessmen patiently awaiting his meal. The time lingers and soon enough, Bennie makes just enough of an annoyance to get the other patron's attention. His name is Frank, and soon we find they are both in the "art business". I should point out at some point, Bennie is the obnoxious American type... Much to the chagrin of a very polite English Frank. But a small relationship is established, and after a very long period of time the food still has not arrived... So, noticing that this restaurant doesn't even have the smell of food, Bennie takes the initiative to visit the kitchen... Which is completely abandoned... Cue slow panning shot and one of the few pieces of musical score to reveal on of the most depressing moments of the film.
OK, so these guys aren't going to eat in the hotel it seems, so they decide to hit the streets to find something to eat. They wander the streets for twenty four hours with some idle, sometimes confrontational, chit chat... Completely oblivious to the fact that the setting is changing around them... The fact that they don't see Hong Kong harbor outside their Liverpool ferry pretty much sums what this film is about...
But... There's more!
Brought to you by the man responsible for Sid & Nancy, Repo Man, and Straight to Hell, Alex Cox weaves perhaps one of the most subtle and insidious films I have ever seen. I don't know why I've put off seeing Cox's later work, perhaps because I didn't believe he could maintain the same level of insanity that he had during the eighties... That seems to be the case for most genre directors, so I didn't keep my hopes up. This is about as clever, if not more so, than his early work. Just as before, I am always astounded at Cox's ability to weave so many non sequiturs into a film and give them as great of gravity as the key points to the film. It is not as obvious as say Repo Man, considering that the pace is excruciatingly slow, but so much the better for us.
The description on the DVD mentions Beckett, and that about sums up this film. This is probably the closest I have seen to a cinematic equivalent to Waiting for Godot. The description above pretty much sums up the progress of the entire movie, and in the wrong (perhaps right) mindset, you will be as completely oblivious as Bennie and Frank. Unlike Godot, however, Three Businessmen does have a punchline and the last act is hard to ignore the drastic changes occurring around our two businessmen. The title is Three Businessmen, but the third doesn't make his way in until this cosmic joke is reaching its climax so I will leave it at that. But I will say that this film is one giant joke, the kind that if told would take ten minutes to tell before the one-liner conclusion. This is a joke that involves Bennie, Frank and their soon would-be counterpart, and when the punchline comes it doesn't seem to make much of a difference between the three.
On the FAQ at Alex Cox's site regarding Three Businessmen, when asked what the film is about: "Certainly is. It's the story of Bennie and Frank, two independent businessmen, who meet by chance in the restaurant of the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool. Unable to find food therein, they set out in search of dinner." That's enough for me, but when writer Tod Davies is asked the same question: "It's not what it's about. It's just what happens. There is some confusion that these two things are the same, in the movies. But they are not."