"Four Rooms," no vu.
You people must have been very naughty to get this lump of coal in your Christmas stocking! A collection of four "short stories" written and directed by four allegedly talented, hip young directors, the movie is a total catastrophe. Ninety minutes long, it produces but one laugh and that one doesn't arrive until Minute 90. Worse, the film is actually annoying.
"Four Rooms" is set in an aging Hollywood hotel on New Year's Eve and follows one character, the new bellhop Ted (Tim Roth), through his first night of work. In each room he visits he uncovers a moment of psycho-sexual American bizarreness. Or at least that's the plan.
Actually Roth, one of the more interesting actors to emerge, is simply horrible. He's been encouraged to mug, wince, mince, nitter, whinny and bug out his eyes as if such a thing were amusing. He's like one of those last generation silent actors who hasn't gotten that sound has arrived and is still trying to reach the cheap seats with his eyebrows. Not funny. Not even close.
The directors -- or should I say perpetrators -- of this fish stew of banality are Allison Anders ("Gas Food Lodging" and "Mi Vida Loca"), Alexandre Rockwell ("In the Soup"), Robert Rodriguez ("El Mariachi," "Desperado") and the baddest of the bad boys, Quentin Tarantino ("Pulp Fiction"). Given the varying levels of accomplishment, you might expect varying levels of achievement: And that's what you get. Tarantino's, the last segment, is far and away the best. But it's not very good. Yes, he gets the laugh -- so what?
The first two pieces, by Anders and Rockwell, are utterly negligible. In Anders', a coven of witches convenes to evoke a lost goddess out of the hot tub; despite the presence of Madonna, Lili Taylor, Valeria Golino among them, no characters emerge and even the little joke about which the piece is built -- Ted has to supply a missing ingredient at the last moment -- isn't very funny.
The second bit, from Rockwell, involves Ted in a nasty game between a jealous husband and his bound and gagged wife (Jennifer Beals). Utterly pointless.
Rodriguez at least has an idea in the third episode. He rationally documents the forces in a room that build to a moment of such bewildering moral and physical complexity that it might defy rational explanation. It's akin in some ways to Tom Stoppard's "After Magritte," which provided a rational explanation to a famous work of surrealism. The difference: Rodriguez isn't funny or witty or interesting. Worse, there's a queasy undercurrent of the sexual molestation of children underneath the unfunny antics. It made me sick.
Tarantino's last episode is a variation on an "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" episode in which Peter Lorre tried to cheat Steve McQueen out of his fingers. It's not as good as Hitchcock and Hitchcock was working on TV 40 years ago!
Tarantino casts himself as an overbearing movie star who's used to being listened to, and this enables him to photograph himself in close-up in an endless riff of the sort he thinks he's famous for. It smacks of self-indulgence, but at least it blows the movie out to something approximating feature length.
Bruce Willis is a minor co-star in this one and that's Tarantino in a nutshell: He thinks he's more interesting than Bruce Willis. Please.
Starring Madonna, Jennifer Beals, Antonio Banderas and Quentin Tarantino
Directed by Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino
Released by Miramax
Rated R (nudity, violence, profanity)