WHEN Wes Anderson is good, he's very good – dare I say it, brilliant – and when he's occasionally off-key, the Texan writer-director still puts other filmmakers in the shade.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a tour-de-force of invention and creativity that leaves no narrative stone unturned in its quest for laughs and heartfelt emotion.
Anderson is in sparkling form, tracing the history of the titular establishment from 1932 to the present day through the eyes of two lovers who become embroiled in a madcap crime caper involving a stolen painting.
It's a brilliantly bonkers ensemble comedy from a filmmaker who marries quirky production design with eccentric characters and wry humour, yet still manages to find a nub of humanity in every outlandish situation.
Anderson marshals an incredible cast including regular collaborators Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray, plus he teases out an uproarious and energetic performance from Ralph Fiennes as the suave protagonist at the centre of the mystery. The Salisbury actor's comic timing is impeccable.
Nightmares conjured by his portrayals of Amon Goeth in Schindler's List or Voldemort in the Harry Potter saga are banished forever.
A neat framing device introduces Zero Moustafa (Tony Tevolori), who secures a coveted position as lobby boy at one of eastern Europe's celebrated establishments, the Grand Budapest Hotel in the Republic of Zubrowka.
Zero works under legendary concierge Gustave H (Fiennes), who the lobby boy fondly remembers as "the most liberally perfumed man I've ever met".
Clients, especially older women, are putty in Gustave's well-manicured hands and he lavishes them with affection, including ageing matriarch Madame D (Tilda Swinton).
When she perishes in suspicious circumstances and leaves a priceless Renaissance painting entitled Boy With Apple to Gustave in her will, grief-stricken relatives including Madame's greedy son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) plot the concierge's downfall.
The finger of suspicion for Madame D's demise points at Gustave and he goes on the run with wily police chief Henckels (Edward Norton) and Dmitri's sadistic henchman (Willem Dafoe) in hot pursuit.
With the continent changing at frightening speed, Gustave and accomplice Zero attempt to outwit their pursuers and prove the concierge's innocence, aided by a pretty baker's assistant called Agatha (Saoirse Ronan).
The Grand Budapest Hotel offers audiences a luxurious five-star stay inside Anderson's vision.
Every frame is beautifully crafted, set to a jaunty score by composer Alexandre Desplat.
If Fiennes is a revelation in a rare comedic role, supporting performances are equally memorable including Swinton's cranky grand dame and Jeff Goldblum's ill-fated lawyer.
Bookmarked into five chapters, the narrative twists and turns at delirious speed.
"The plot thickens, so they say. Why? Is it a soup metaphor?" wonders Gustave aloud as the truth about Madame D's death comes into focus – and we lap up every sublime soupy metaphor with gusto.