Four Rooms Review
Kill Bill Vol. 1 was heavily advertised as Quentin Tarantino’s 4th film, but that wasn’t entirely true, as in 1995 he produced and partly directed this picture, a bizarre portmanteau movie surrounding a once exclusive Hollywood hotel, the Mon Signor. Split into four chapters, each about the goings on in a different room of the hotel and woven together by the involvement of the hotel’s bellhop Ted (Tim Roth) each story was written and directed by a different filmmaker, and to say the results were disparate would be rather an understatement.
The Honeymoom Suite provides the action for the first vignette, as Ted is asked to provide a number of items not usually found on the room service menu, fresh rosemary and Italian spring water aren’t particularly unusual, raw meat – preferably liver – is probably rather less often asked for, but how many times have you rung room service in search of some fresh semen? This particularly odd collection of items is required as the room’s 5 residents (who include Valeria Golino, Lily Taylor and Madonna in their number) happen to be a coven of witches, desperately trying to lift a curse placed upon their idol 40 years ago to the night in the very same room.
In fine Tarantino style the second segment overlaps with the third in its timeline, here Ted is mistakenly called to room 404 after a drunken party in 504 has trouble remembering how many flights of stairs they climbed. This doesn’t turn out well for poor Ted as he stumbles into a rather nasty confrontation between a husband and wife, it seems she (Flashdance’s Jennifer Beals) has been cheating on her angry, drunken, and rather violent spouse, and with a gentleman named Theodore no less…
The third portion has been served up by Quentin’s old pal Robert Rodriguez, the residents of 309 are rather eager to head out for the evening without their children to celebrate new year’s eve, and the head of the family (Antonio Banderas) comes up with the idea of leaving Ted a rather large tip to be their babysitter for the night, not something he is eager to do, but $500 is too good a deal to pass up. At least it seemed that way, before the drinking, the fires, the hypodermic needles of unknown origin, and the rather persistent smell.
The final section – Tarantino’s own – finds Ted at the end of his tether, about to walk out of the job he’s roped into one final call, the penthouse suite is playing host to a big shot Hollywood director (Tarantino) the hotel’s most important guest, who’s requests are almost as odd as the coven’s. Their use however, is rather less mystical, by 6am in Hollywood anyone drinking Cristal is likely to be having some less than sensible ideas, unfortunately with rather large quantities of alcohol in them nobody seems to care, and everyone is rather eager to take part in a rather unusual bet, in which Ted will have a very important role to play.
Having more than one director on a film only works if they work as a team, the most successful always seem to be brothers – the Wachowski’s and the Farrelly’s seem to be doing well enough working in pairs - Four Rooms’ problem is that nobody seems to have read anyone else’s script. I’d have thought this would be something Roth would have pointed out, being the only person present in all four, his character doesn’t have any kind of consistency. The blame for this has to lay equally between his four directors and Roth himself, as he swings for near mute and meek, to ticking time bomb of fury, a mean negotiator able to hold his own with the strongest of characters, and even his accent changes flip-flopping between a non-descript American one to Roth’s own London brogue with little notice at all.
The first half of the film is just plain awful, the two lesser known filmmakers (Allison Anders had prevoiusly made the excellent Gas, Food, Lodging) do a middling job of directing, but a ridiculously poor job of writing. The witchcraft story - Anders' - is pointless as no attempt is made to tie the story in with the other three, which all contain details that overlap, not to mention infantile. The spells cast by the witches sound like something made up by a 12 year old, and the sub B-movie effects work looks more cheap and awful rather than cheap and kitsch. The second story isn’t as awful, but doesn’t have much in the way of merit either. On the plus side it does weave into the story, one of the characters turns up in Tarantino’s suite in the final chapter and during proceedings the angry husband receives a call that turns out to be made in the third story, and it does contain some nice touches in direction even if the majority is flat. None of this is enough to save it from tedium though, and the only thing that will stop you reaching for the remote is the anticipation of the parts by the more talented directors.
Things pick up in the third quarter, Banderas is the first person to actually act in the film, and it's clear he’s having a lot of fun with his role, as is Rodriguez with the directing. The majority of the piece is spent alone with the kids – who are also better actors than anyone from the first half – and the light hearted nature of it brings to mind Rodriguez’s work in Spy Kids. By keeping things simple – and even somewhat slapstick – along with leaving Tim Roth on the sidelines (something that would, with most of his performances, be a huge mistake) he provides the first actual entertainment in the film, but it’s still only slight, which leaves it to Tarantino to save the day. It would rather appear that Tarantino (along with Pulp Fiction partner Laurence Bender) produced the whole film simply because he had a great idea that wouldn’t stretch to an entire film, and he just needed an excuse to squeeze it in somewhere. His segment if fantastically entertaining, taking the lead role upon himself because Chester is Tarantino, it wouldn’t be too hard to believe if Tarantino claimed this was an incident from his own life. The bet revolves around an episode of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series with Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre called The Man From Rio, which is rather simple, but what makes the segment great is the build up. Chester is in no hurry to let Ted know what’s going on, ranting about Cristal and shouting about movie grosses and Jerry Lewis in the way only Quentin can, it’s the only part of the film that’s truly well written and QT proves once more he can only act when he’s playing himself. He’s also got a cast backing him up, his adversary in the wager is Paul Calderon – who played the bartender trading Red Apples in Pulp Fiction – along with the man he was selling them to, Bruce Willis, as a rather enthusiastic onlooker.
As a film Four Rooms is a mess, the segments are hung together on a thread, and a poorly acted thread at that, I almost feel sorry for Roth as his task was near impossible, and I’d guess the bizarre mannerisms he provides Ted with were an attempt to give the character some kind of continuity between the stories, it does look like he was being pulled in four different directions throughout the film, but he barely manages to go in any of them convincingly. It is however a shame the film has already been largely forgotten as Tarantino’s segment is rather good and makes the otherwise tiresome experience of watching the film worthwhile. Only obsessive fans would feel the need to add Four Rooms to their collections, but it’s definitely a film worth watching once, not only to see how gripping a story Tarantino can weave in just 20 minutes, but also to marvel at just how bad good actors can be when nobody has a clue what they’re doing.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen Four Rooms doesn’t look quite as good as it should. The DVD was released as recently as 2002 but the transfer looks like it’s from much earlier days of dvd. While the compression levels are fine, there is a definite softness to the image, edges aren’t well defined and somewhat blurry, and this can lead to a nasty haloing around areas of overlapping dark and light colour, as if they are fading into each other. Colour reproduction is also slightly poor, with things feeling rather muted – especially in comparison to the screenshots on the sleeve. It’s a disappointing image that just wouldn’t have been allowed on a major release, but a quickie vanilla disc like this doesn’t seem to demand the same standards.
The sound isn’t much better, and although it doesn’t have many opportunities to wow you, when it does have them it doesn’t grasp them. Whilst allegedly being Dolby Digital 5.1 it was rather a relaxing day for my sub, at one point I thought the bass was rumbling, but in fact it had just fallen asleep and started snoring due to the complete lack of activity. This isn’t a soundtrack that will stray from your front three speakers very often.
You won’t even find a trailer on the disc, which is a shame in a way as I’d be intrigued to see how anyone tried to market this mess. The cover for the film is telling enough, with the principle cast photoshopped together, looking – for the most part – entirely different from theis roles in the film, Maddona is wearing handcuffs, Banderas has a gun in his belt, but these are nothing to do with the film. If the people making the poster were that baffled the trailer must have been a hoot.
The transfer it has received onto DVD is poor, from both an audio and video point of view, and the lack of extras is actually rather disappointing despite the film being less than enthralling. It would have been interesting to get Tarantino and Rodriguez to comment on the film, they came out of it unscathed after all, and for them at least it isn’t a complete embarrassment, but as this disc stands it’s only worth buying if you can find it very cheap.
Last updated: 27/06/2018 14:16:40