Streaming Choices: Four Rooms (1995)

In Streaming Choices, I take a quick glance at the world of cinema available on Netflix Instant, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services.

Rating: two and a half stars (out of five)

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Anthologies rarely fire on all cylinders. Four Rooms is no exception to this, though it features plenty of likable elements, particularly Quentin Tarantino’s riff on Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (and namedropping of an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode with Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre), which features a roving camera with very few cuts and an absurdist drunken bet.

Tim Roth’s Ted the Bellboy provides the connective tissue as the only character to appear in all four segments, written and directed, respectively, by Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez, and Tarantino. Maybe it’s unfair to say this and I’ve been biased by a critic-created narrative, but it’s not surprising that the sketches get better as they go from relatively unknown filmmakers (Anders has done a number of television episodes for series like The L Word and Sex and the City and Rockwell a handful of small budget indies) to the hyper successful Rodriguez and the Hall of Famer Tarantino. They utilize Roth to different degrees, but his “speaking Mr. Bean on cocaine” performance is unlike anything I’ve seen him do. It grates at times, but in the latter two stories, he becomes the perfect vehicle for farce and a surprisingly effective straight man (albeit with a greedy streak) for the crazies in the penthouse.

It’s not all rosy, of course.  The animated spells and practical effects of Anders’s segment look atrocious, like imports from an educational children’s show.  They’re not supposed to be taken seriously, but they come across as the product of a filmmaker struggling to care about the material; Anders very well could have been roped into doing it, and it shows.  The witches in the coven, including Madonna, vacillate between trying to exude campy fun and stifling yawns.  In Rockwell’s section, he toys with noir genre staples like the femme fatale driving her man mad, and Roth gets stuck in between them during a psychosexual spat involving a big handgun, some rope, and a mouth gag.  It’s a confused, unsuccessful attempt to walk the tightrope between the noir of the setup and a spoof embodied by Roth’s everyman stand-in.

Rodriguez and Tarantino do what they can with their stories, and each is fun, but they’re both genre exercises without much to say about the world beyond, “We’ve seen farces (Rodriguez) and thrillers (Tarantino).”  Luckily the filmmaking collective here knows not to overstay their welcome, and each section is tightly edited.  The movie scoots along at just over an hour and a half, but doesn’t leave much to think about after it’s over.

Four Rooms is currently available on Netflix Instant.


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