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New for July 7, 2011
Four Rooms (1995), directed by Allison Anders, Alexander Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, with Tim Roth, Madonna, Lili Taylor, Antonio Banderas, Marisa Tomei, Jennifer Beals, Alicia Witt, Paul Calderon, Ione Skye, Bruce Willis and Quentin Tarantino – Four rooms. Four stories. Four directors. Essentially, four short films joined together by a loose narrative about a bellhop (Tim Roth) trying to keep his wits together during a wild New Year’s Eve at a swanky hotel. In spite of the hate this movie gets, I liked Four Rooms a lot when I was younger. Looking back, it’s no surprise since the majority of the film’s humor seems to be tailored toward adolescents — the first two tales alone contain an extraordinary number of dick jokes, possibly more than I’ve ever encountered in a film before. That being said, it’s the first two stories — directed by Anders (Gas, Food, Lodging) and Rockwell (In The Soup) that are the weakest. As much as you can blame the Weinsteins for cutting the runtime of these segments short in favor of giving more time to Tarantino’s section … the first two stories aren’t very good premise-wise. The first is about a coven of witches (one of whom is played by Madonna) in need of a man’s sperm (namely, that of Tim Roth’s bellhop character Ted) to complete their brew. The second involves Roth’s character Ted finding himself caught in the middle of a couple’s kinky role-play — the couple is played by Jennifer Beals (Flashdance) and David Proval (The Sopranos). There are bits in each of these stories that make me laugh, however, so without knowing if and what wound up on the cutting room floor, it’s hard to pass judgment.
Story number three, directed by Robert Rodriguez, seems to be most people’s favorite of the bunch. It’s definitely mine. Antonio Banderas plays a hotel guest who wants nothing more than to take his wife out for a night on the town. Ted the Bellhop is talked into taking care of his two children for $500. Ted’s child-sitting techniques are questionable — instead of staying in the room with the kids, he puts ointment on their eyelids and tells them to go to sleep. He also tells them that if they open their eyes, that the salve will burn their eyeballs. Pretty sick, but this is just a ruse and the kids — Sara, the oldest (Lana McKissack) and her little brother Juancho (Danny Verduzco) — call Ted’s bluff. They wash their eyes off in the sink and, with Ted elsewhere in the hotel, proceed to go bonkers in the hotel room. The chaos that ensues is masterfully directed by Rodriguez as if it were a live-action Tom & Jerry cartoon — if it’s possible for a Tom & Jerry cartoon to end with the discovery of a dead hooker underneath a bed. (The dead hooker is the culmination of a running gag in which the two kids, throughout the sketch, argue over a bad smell coming from the room.)
The more I write, the less of a “quick take” this is becoming, so I’m going to wrap this up. The final story is Tarantino’s and it’s based on a Twilight Zone episode or an Outer Limits episode or something, in which there’s a bet over whether a person can light the flame on a lighter ten times in a row without, uhm … missing? Failing to produce a flame? If the person attempting the feat loses, he agrees to let his pinky be cut off with a meat cleaver. Ted the Bellhop gets to wield the cleaver. It’s kind of a pointless little story, but really … aren’t they all? Tarantino, who plays an egotistical, gregarious movie director (totally unironically, I’m sure), is a complete nut here, especially when he starts riffing on Cristal champagne.
Basically, people who hate Tarantino are really going to hate Four Rooms. Tarantino’s story is him at his most self-indulgent. It’s pretty well documented that, behind-the-scenes, Tarantino knew he was the star of the show and that the other directors involved in the project — with the possible exception of Rodriguez — had this feeling that their contributions were being regarded as less-than-important (in particular, by the Weinsteins). The finished product is still pretty fucking entertaining — especially the Rodriguez segment, but not only the Rodriguez segment. Tim Roth, as Ted, is … interesting. He’s completely over-the-top in a slapsticky sort of way. In any other movie, this characterization might ridiculous. Here, it kind of works. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how they hated his character, but I find him hilarious.
There are other reasons I like this movie. The sheer number of well-known actors involved in Four Rooms is compelling, even if most of them just stop by briefly. Then there’s soundtrack, by alternative/lounge act Combustible Edison and produced by Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh, which is pretty wicked awesome.
At the very least, it’s different — the kind of star-studded pseudo-indie film that could only have been made in the 1990s, a comic anthology film financed by a major studio (And Disney — via Miramax, to boot!) Four Rooms is an odd movie, but also a true oddity of film production.
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