IT WAS BAD, and I knew it would be bad. I knew it because
I've never seen one of those anthology movies, those three-or-four-stories-within-a-story-films,
that had anything more than the faint odor of being good. To confirm
this conclusion, I scoured my brain to produce this incomplete
and deeply flawed list:
First, there's the film in question, Four Rooms, four
(can you believe it?) short films by hot, young directors, all
set in the same hotel on New Year's Eve and threaded together
by the character of The Bellboy (Tim Roth), who shows up in each.
Then there's last year's Erotique, a mildly pornographic
compendium of sweaty, naked limbs from, at other times, quite
interesting directors (like Lizzie Borden) that truly earned the
adjective unwatchable. Nineteen eighty-nine brought us
New York Stories, directed by Coppola, Scorsese and Woody
Allen, which made evident the curse of segmented films, since
these talents turned in some of the most forgettable work of their
careers (though I seem to remember thinking the Allen segment
Last year came Tales From The Hood, a horror/Blaxsploit/morality
play featuring Clarence Williams III (from The Mod Squad!)
which points to the roots, or at least the heyday of this form,
in horror movies and Seventies television. (Who, God forgive us,
can forget The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Love,
American Style?) Tales From The Hood also samples the
most enjoyable film of this type I can think of, Trilogy of
Terror, made for TV (in 1975), which not only stars Karen
Black in each segment but, in a textbook nod to post-modernism,
features her in one story playing both a good sister and
her evil twin. Three stories, four roles! Trilogy of Terror
also has the plot line I'll forever associate with the multiple
story movie: killer dolls who crave human flesh. They resurface
in Tales From The Hood with the by now familiar, comforting
sight of vicious puppets throwing themselves at human ankles.
Four Rooms, to its detriment, has no killer dolls. Instead
it has four stylish pieces without camp appeal, character development,
tension or indeed, even content. All of the writer/directors involved--Quentin
Tarantino, Allison Anders, Robert Rodriguez and Alexandre Rockwell--seem
to have stumbled over, among other things, the length requirement.
Each segment is only about 20 minutes long but the filmmakers
clearly had problems concocting 20 minutes' worth of plot. This
is a skill, I suppose, like knowing how much food to take at a
buffet. If this movie actually was a meal though, we'd all leave
the theater starving.
So, there's a lot of repetition to fill up time, particularly
in the Tarantino and Rockwell segments. And if paucity isn't bad
enough, all the vignettes are incredibly slapdash, as if the filmmakers
went with the first thing that came into their minds. Allison
Anders' segment, for example, is about a coven of witches who
need some human sperm for a spell. They tip the bellboy fifty
bucks and get the spunk from him. The end. Like, isn't there supposed
to be some tension, or conflict, or something? Or at least character
development? Anders assembles an interesting group of actors (including
Ione Skye and Madonna), then refuses to give them anything to
do except take off their shirts.
All in all, it's an impressive waste of resources. Quentin Tarantino
provides one second of entertainment in 30 minutes of gratuitous
yelling about nothing. In the middle of it all, Jennifer Beales
delivers a line that echoes the discomfort of the audience: "You've
had him here for 15 minutes," she says, talking about the
bellboy and, by proxy, us. "When are you going to tell him
what this is all about?" Richard Rodriguez' piece is only
slightly better, despite the glowering of Antonio Banderas and
the cuteness of the child actors he uses.
Worst of all is the segment by Alexandre Rockwell, and it's
awful mostly because it features Tim Roth so prominently. Roth
twitches and stutters so much through his role as the bellboy,
and with no apparent reason, that I began to wonder if he wasn't
supposed to have some sort of neurological disorder. He also whispers
most of his lines. Apparently, he's imitating Jerry Lewis' performance
in The Bellboy, though that kind of screwball comedy, besides
being hopelessly out of style, makes almost no sense in this context.
I can not stress enough how annoying his performance is.
How bad is Four Rooms? The only way I can measure it is
to place it within the hierarchy of bad television, where it belongs.
It's better than the vacuous Fantasy Island but worse than
the campy, sexist Love, American Style. Your ankles
will be safe from little dolls, but beware of boredom.