Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

FOUR ROOMS (1995) no *

Written & directed by Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino. Produced by Lawrence Bender. Photography, Rodrigo Garcia, Phil Parmet, Guillermo Navarro, Andrzej Sekula. Production design, Gary Frutkoff. Costumes, Susan Betram, Mary Claire Hannan. Editing, Margie Goodspeed, Robert Rodriguez, Sally Menke. Cast: see text. A Miramax Film. 96 minutes. Rated R (language, sex, violence)

The mainstream is where most movies thrive financially but drown artistically, unless the particular mainstream adds imagination and quality. Offbeat films can hold promise, point to progress and in some cases be most rewarding. But while a bad mainstream film is plain bad, a bad offbeat movie can be awful. Such is the case with "Four Rooms."

"Four Rooms" is an omnibus of four films averaging 25 minutes apiece, each written and directed by a different person. Already, that concept is iffy.

Few multi-episode pictures are successful. I can think of many failures--but to be fair, of some exceptions too, like the classic British "Dead of Night, " the also British "Quartet" from Somerset Maugham stories, or the multinational five-parter "Love At Twenty" with its striking episode by Andrzej Wajda and the superb "Antoine and Colette" by Francois Truffaut.

"Four Rooms" starts out with cutesy, dumb and unfunny animation, often an indication of troubles to come. Then we have the overture. On New Year's eve, in a Hollywood hotel that had known better days, bellboy Ted (Tim Roth) is taking over from a retiring employee. If you are a movie buff you might get a pleasurable little shock of recognition by identifying the old man as Marc Lawrence, the supporting actor who played villains in so many gangster movies and westerns. At age 85 he reappears on the screen after more than a 16-year absence, then vanishes.

Tim Roth is the connecting link among all episodes. The segments' other two points in common are that they take place in different rooms of the Monsignor Hotel and that they are all bad. Tim Roth, seen generally in menacing roles, has done very well in such movies as "The Hit, " "A World Apart, " "Vincent and Theo" (as Vincent Van Gogh), "Reservoir Dogs" " Little Odessa" or "Pulp Fiction." In 1995 he just about stole the show in "Rob Roy."

Roth's Ted is probably the lowest point of his career. He mugs, flutters, minces, sways, twitches his facial muscles, gestures idiotically, tries miserable imitations of silent comics, and of the Jerry Lewis of "The Bellboy." Roth's nose (which ought to get him the nickname "Il Nasone" in Italy) seems to get more prominent with each successive episode. His accent undergoes changes from Cockney British to Fake American. A washout.

Filmlet #1 by Allison Anders ("Gas Food Lodging" and "Mi Vida Loca") is about the meeting of a coven of seven witches, including Sammi Davis, Valeria Golino and Madonna. There is a fixation on breasts and much pulchritudinous toplessness. The latter might be enjoyed in a Politically Correct way since the director is a woman. There is also much ado about body fluids and especially semen that Ted will have to provide to Ione Skye. The less said about all this, the better.

Episode #2 by Alexandre Rockwell ("In the Soup") has Ted, on room service duty, becoming involved with pantless David Proval who holds a gun, has gagged his wife (Jennifer Beals) and tied her to a chair. The subject is unworthy of description and critique. When Beals, who shows no trace of acting ability, gets un-gagged, she proceeds with porno-flick language.

In Number 3, by Robert Rodriguez ("El Mariachi, " "Desperado"), tough, tuxedoed Antonio Banderas, wants to take his Oriental wife to a New Year's celebration. He hires Ted to check on their kids every half-hour. The 6-year-old boy, also wears a tux. He smokes, smells his feet. His 9-year-old sister, in evening clothes, smells them too, as well as hers. The odors have ramifications. There's also a champagne bottle, a stripper on TV, a huge hypodermic syringe, a mysterious corpse, and so on. Though a tad less dull than the other vignettes, coming from the promising Rodriguez it is appalling.

Number 4, by Quentin Tarantino, unites two of the most unpretty male faces in Hollywood, Tarantino's and Roth's. It is set in the penthouse, with a group of pals: Tarantino, Bruce Willis, Paul Calderon and Jennifer Beals. Like the other episodes it has echoes of surrealism and of the Theatre of the Absurd, both undigested and not understood.

Media freak Tarantino feebly attempts in-jokes on film-making plus other references to film and TV, all without any trace of intelligence, finesse and appropriateness. There is more talk of Jerry Lewis. The core of the episode is to recreate "The Man from Rio"--not to be confused with "That Man From Rio, " a French, heavy-footed James Bond parody with Jean-Paul Belmondo. The model here is the "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" item in which Peter Lorre bets his new car with Steve McQueen. If McQueen can light his lighter ten times running he gets the car. Otherwise, he loses his pinky.

All this episode shows is that Tarantino may be an "ersatz wunderkind." All the movie as a whole proves is that the Brothers Miramax, while now belonging to Disney -- but with their own unit-- are asserting how independent they can be.

Apparently they try proving this by making an 180-degree turn away from Disney's sugariness. However, over and above the "risque" nature of "Four Rooms" is the choice of language: the f-word pervades the movie not just from A to F but also from G to Z. This monotonous repetition points to a lamentable lack of imagination --linguistic or other--and to a low-life conception of humor.

In life and in films, crass terms are often inevitable, perhaps even made necessary by the situation. But this movie goes over the top. So prevalent is the f-word in the speech of all characters (females and males, children and adults) that if you were to eliminate it you might be left with just half of the total dialogue.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel