‘Four Rooms’ combines four great directors

Let's see, we've got Tim Roth in a bellhop uniform, topless witches and a dead hooker in a mattress. Is this making any sense?

Probably not. The truth is that this is a movie that can't quite be explained but only seen. A collection of short stories from an ensemble of four directors, most notably Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino, "Four Rooms" is a shamelessly bizarre slab of black comedy and whimsical absurdity that doesn't keep much at its center other than its willingness to fly off in unforeseeable directions. Here's a rollercoaster ride of a film that's destined to derail, but then again that may have been the point to begin with.

The story centers upon Ted the Bellhop (Tim Roth) on his first tour of duty at a swanky Los Angeles hotel. It's New Year's Eve, so immediately there is reason to suspect craziness to some degree. But by the end of the film, it is unlikely anyone will have a New Year story fit to rival Ted's.

The film is shot as a collection of four incidents occurring in separate rooms throughout the hotel. Allison Anders starts things off with "The Missing Ingredient," the least impressive offering of the four, where Ted gives a little bit of himself to a coven of witches looking to bring back their long departed leader. It's dopy and nonsensical, as are the other segments, but the others are at least fun, whereas Anders falls flat on all fronts.

Fortunately the other vignettes are increasingly funnier and more interesting. "The Wrong Man," written and directed by Alexandre Rockwell, is as odd and offbeat as its predecessor but for the most part hits its mark. When Ted mistakenly enters the wrong room en route to delivering ice to a party, he finds himself in the middle of a marital squabble of dire proportions, in which the wife is bound and gagged while the husband holds the two at gunpoint. The darkest of the four shorts, Rockwell does an admirable job of finding humor in otherwise bleak scenarios.

In what is the highlight of the film, Rodriquez steps up to plate with "The Misbehavers" and belts it out of the park. The "Desperado" auteur leads his right hand man Antonio Banderas through a segment that plays like the Babysitters' Club on acid. Ted is paid $500 to watch Banderas' kids for the night, but what seems like an effortless task ends up in complete and utter chaos. Never one to get into specifics, I'll leave you the viewer to wait in suspense.

Wrapping things up is cinematic shock jock Quentin Tarantino, whose "Man From Hollywood" segment ends things on a note so crass and gasp inducing only he could deliver. In move of unbridled film geekiness, Tarantino bases the segment on an episode of "Albert Hitchcock Presents" starring Steve McQueen. Chester Rush (Tarantino) and his buddies (including an unbilled Bruce Willis) are drinking and decide to play a game of unsurpassed stupidity: If Chester can't light his zippo 10 times in a row, his friend (Paul Caldron) loses a finger and Ted wins $1,000 for doing the deed. Since we're talking about Tarantino here, it should be an unmistakable given as to what happens, so let's leave it at that.

There's an old saying that too many chefs spoil stew. This may be the case with "Four Rooms," where certain skits are clearly better than others, and the film as a whole lacks a clear directorial style. But there's still plenty of fun to be had in this underrated gem to warrant it a look.

Grade: B

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Feb. 24 2005.