IT SOUNDED LIKE an irresistible idea: a four-episode comedy set in a Hollywood hotel, with each chapter directed by a different hot talent from the independent-film scene — Allison Anders (Gas Food Lodging), Alexandre Rockwell (In the Soup), Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi and Desperado), and the maestro himself, Quentin Tarantino. What a surprise, then, that all of FOUR ROOMS (Miramax, R) seems to have been made by the same grabby, not very talented filmmaker. Anders, Rockwell, Rodriguez, and Tarantino end up resorting to the same audience-bamboozling tactics: bright, caffeinated camera work; loud overacting; situations rife with slapstick mayhem; a general atmosphere of cultivated obnoxiousness. There’s really only one room in Four Rooms, and it’s the MTV fun house — a smarmy Romper Room for postmodern brats.
It doesn’t help that poor Ted the bellhop (Tim Roth) is the hero of every episode: Each story offers a variation on his seduction, humiliation, and ironic triumph. Roth’s performance, a collection of sputtering tics and grimaces, is a piece of geek camp, as if he knew it were up to him to bring some life to the party. In Anders’ ”The Missing Ingredient,” he stumbles upon a coven of witches (including Madonna, Lili Taylor, and Ione Skye — was it written into their contracts which ones had to flash their breasts?), who end up seducing him for his sperm. In Rockwell’s ”The Wrong Man,” he is lured into the room of a kinky couple whose incomprehensible S&M rituals culminate in the wife (Jennifer Beals) furiously spouting synonyms for penis. Rodriguez’s ”The Misbehavers” finds Ted babysitting the scampish son and daughter of a glam mobster couple (Antonio Banderas and Tamlyn Tomita). This episode has shards of wit, but the kids’ cartoon mayhem is orchestrated with a Rube Goldberg relentlessness that’s as wearying as it is funny.
Finally, we come to Tarantino’s ”The Man From Hollywood” (costarring the director himself), a gonzo gabfest spun around the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents gimmick in which a man agrees to have his pinkie chopped off if he loses a bet. This is Quentin’s pulpiest fiction to date, yet Tarantino, doing garrulous riffs on his own narcissism, evokes the dissipated creepiness of a 3 a.m. party that’s revving up and winding down at the same time. He’s a demon of a filmmaker even when he’s spinning a demented yarn out of nothing. Let’s hope he’s had enough of nothing for a while. C