11 July 1999 | Jaime N. Christley
Amazing: starts awful, ends brilliant
It's impossible to analyze this film without breaking it down into its four segments for separate comment. It would also be improper, since it was not intended to be anything less than an anthology from four notable independent filmmakers: Alexandre Rockwell, Alison Anders, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino.
The first episode is exactly the sort of thing that someone in a high school drama production would want to do, but can't get away with in a high school drama production. It's juvenile, unfunny, and lifeless, but it has the (pointless) nudity and lines of dialogue like:
Witch #1: "I am your mother."
Witch #2: "Then why are we sleeping together?"
that sound like the screenwriter is giggling and thinking, "I can't believe I'm getting away with this! I'm so clever!"
Nothing is at stake in the first episode; it's generally expected that a story must have conflict in order to BE a story. This has none. Just some half-baked jokes and a pair of topless women (If I wanted that, I'd skip renting a movie and go out instead.)
Second episode is a hair better, but you'll find yourself crying "Why doesn't Ted the Bellboy do [insert plot resolution here] and get the bloody hell out of there!" When it finally does end, you're disheartened to find that it had no reason to exist. Two snips with a pair of scissors, a bit of tape, and we wouldn't know the difference. Roll opening credits, go straight to the Rodriguez segment.
Third episode has some structural support to keep it from caving in on itself. The surprise in the middle (I won't give it away, don't worry) is horrifying enough to give the segment some heft. Rodriguez and his d.p., Guillermo Navarro, move it along dexterously and (as usual) have a good handle on visual comedy.
The last segment is the best. I think it's safe to say that Quentin Tarantino has, officially, never disappointed me as a director or screenwriter. My heart leapt as soon as I heard his trademark dialogue coming from the lips of Marisa Tomei as "Four Rooms" segued from "The Misbehavers" to "The Man From Hollywood." I wasn't sure if his take on Ted the Bellhop's misadventures was going to be any good, but I knew that if he wrote it and helmed it, it wasn't going to be all bad.
What a pleasant surprise (still just talking about the fourth segment here). This part of the movie, with its ridiculous premise (lifted form an old Hitchcock episode, which it acknowledges out loud), moves along speedily, and the actors take to it as naturally as any other movies by Q.T. Basically playing himself, Tarantino is hilarious. If anything, he knows A) how people really act when they're drunk (i.e. not like Dudley Moore caricatures) B) why people think he's so obnoxious, like a real-life, fast-talking Jar Jar Binks and C) how to put some bang in his visual storytelling. It's low-rent Tarantino, don't get me wrong, but it's also the best part of "Four Rooms."
All in all, the first film I've ever seen that starts out with a loathsome, horrifying badness, gets incrementally better with each passing fifteen minutes, and ends as good as one would like. Just don't make me watch it again.