“I’m in a situation I can’t begin to explain.” – Ted the Bellhop (Tim Roth)
New Years movies are supposed to be heartwarming, with a bright look at the 365 days ahead. See Holiday as an example — it’s impossible not to get excited for the love, joy and hope that lies ahead once Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant find each other.
Four Rooms is nothing like that.
Tim Roth stars as Ted the Bellhop, a man just starting his job at the ritzy Mon Signor Hotel on New Years Eve. In four interlocking vignettes, he becomes a potion ingredient for a coven of witches (including one played by Madonna), stumbles upon a domestic argument that takes a very dark turn, babysits the rowdy children of a dangerous mobster (Antonio Banderas) and inadvertently partakes in a wager between two Hollywood men (Quentin Tarantino, Bruce Willis and Paul Calderon).
Take about getting the year off to an insane start.
Four Rooms acts as a showcase for four directors at the start of their careers, including Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez (Sin City), Allison Anders and Alexandre Rockwell. Although only two would go on to be big Hollywood hits — although Tarantino had already proven himself worthy with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction — their conglomerated work meshes seamlessly.
There’s no doubt that Four Rooms is built off four different styles, but each fits the story it tells. Tarantino’s piece with the Hollywood men is just crazy enough to be believable, constructed of the sharp dialogue that made his movies memorable for more than the blood. Anders, the only woman of the group, focuses on a coven of tough-women witches who treat Ted the Bellhop in a total gender role reversal; they pay him for sex and make him serve them as they do their work. Rodriguez, a hero for zany but gut-turning slapstick that involve kids (Spy Kids, also with Banderas), brings “The Misbehavers” to life with Banderas playing father to two chaotic children bent on making Tim the Bellhop’s life a mess.
What threads all these stories together is Roth’s ability to keep character in each one. He’s not the average guy thrown into a bizarre set of events — Ted the Bellhop has overly emotive reactions, almost to the point of distraction, and his voice ranges from the flighty to the demonic within moments. He’s created a character as absurd as the situation he finds himself, but at the core of everything lies a very common motive: money.
Because the only reason Ted the Bellhop gets into any of the trouble he’s in is because of his want of money. That’s why he takes the job as bellhop, but it’s also why he ends up babysitting the misbehavers ($500), donating his sperm to the coven (a $50 tip) and cutting off another man’s finger ($1,000). It’s a direct contrast to the way the film came together — out of the passion of the craft rather than the cash at the box office. And yet, Ted the Bellhop’s entire night is based off of a societal desire we all have instilled in us, whether we’re willing to commit such craziness to get it or not. It’s certainly a New Year’s Eve that will be remembered.