Segment: The Man from Hollywood
“Four Rooms” was probably one of the biggest disappointments of nineties cinema. The Weinsteins had rounded up some of their best indie talent, the filmmakers that had made their studio’s name. Quentin Tarantino was right off the massive success of “Pulp Fiction,” Allison Anders had made waves with “Gas, Food Lodging,” while Robert Rodriguez had already made his transition from homemade tinkerer to action hit maker. So there was really no excuse for “Four Rooms” to be as bad as it is. Anders’ opening segment is an excruciatingly flat, borderline misogynistic dirty joke that drags on forever. Alexandre Rockwell’s second segment builds some okay energy but is hampered by a mean-spirited tone. Things pick up a bit with Rodriguez’ cartoonish “The Misbehavers,” which plays like something of an R-rated prequel to “Spy Kids.” Even the movie’s animated open credits gets thing off on a bad start, seeming hopelessly hokey. By the time Tarantino’s segments rolls around at the hour and five minutes point, the audience has been left in a very dire state. Amazingly, QT manages to turn things around in the last act, making “Four Rooms” watchable for the first time. Which isn’t to say that “The Man from Hollywood” is a masterpiece on the level of the filmmaker’s previous works. It’s completely minor but funny and energetic.
The exact point where Tarantino takes over the film is immediately obvious. Tim Roth’s frantic bellhop, having the worse New Years of his life, jumps on the phone with his boss. Perhaps expecting that audiences would skip the first three segments, the characters take the time to recount the events of the film up to that point. However, there’s something different. There’s an energy to the dialogue, the words packed with an absurd comic quality. Roth screams profanity, at the end of his rope, while a confused, stoned, calm woman listens patiently, somewhat incoherently, on the other end. The characters speak in long, rambling monologues, full of amusing, unrelated anecdotes. An expert has stepped in and taken over a sinking ship, somehow pulling it out of the ocean.
Quadrophenia” and “The Bellboy.” (This is in addition to previous call-outs to Cannon films and the NES “Rambo” game.) Tarantino is playing himself, basically, and only exaggerating slightly, like when he goes ballistic over flat Cristal or when you find out that his big hit was something called “The Wacky Detective.” Eventually, the film’s purpose reveals itself: An extended reference to “The Alfred Hitchcock Presents” episode “Man from the South.”
The segment is directed mostly in DePalma-style long takes, Tarantino frequently speaking directly to the camera. Slow pans and quick-cutting close-ups break up the shots, like profane interjections break up the dialogue. The lines are frequently ridiculous, especially those coming from an uncredited Bruce Willis and Paul Calderon, both of whom appear as drunk as their characters. The long shots end when Tarantino speaks directly into the camera again, with a minute-long monologue about life and the choices one makes. It’s all one long build-up to a pitch perfect joke, a blunt, swift dismissal of all the nuttiness that came before. As far as Shaggy Dog stories go, it’s a fairly brilliant one. The reaction runs into the credits, manic yet deadpan, scored to the film’s upbeat, sashaying theme song.
[The Man from Hollywood: B+, Four Rooms: C-]