½*/**** Image B Sound B-
starring Lolita Davidovich, Timothy Olyphant, Christina Ricci, Tom Todoroff
written and directed by Marius Balchunas
by Walter Chaw You watch No Vacancy the same way you watch a triathlon, in that it's not an enjoyable viewing experience by any conventional standards, but you find the participants' dedication in completing what experiential evidence suggests is an odious, exceedingly unpleasant task stimulating just the same. As a normal person would quit five minutes in, it's the pluck that fascinates, that willingness to say and do fabulously stupid things during the audition process or the production itself to honour the craft of acting, even if the project that houses it dishonours the craft of filmmaking.
Marius Balchunas's first and only shot at the hyphenate brass ring is a roundelay farce set at a seedy California motel, shot like a television sitcom, and written like a train-wreck. Its score is a schizophrenic grab at Quentin Tarantino/Wes Anderson hipster DJ credibility (without the record collection or the budget to be anything but irritating), and its existence is owed the overlapping fallacies that the French aren't the only ones capable of bedroom farce and that French bedroom farces are that lofty a goal to aspire to in the first place. No Vacancy is strictly the domain of Christina Ricci fetishists, who will probably be disappointed, anyway--not only because there's not much comedy in this sex comedy, but because there's not much sex in it, either.
What there is--a lot of--is running around, yelling, running around yelling, listless quirk for the sake of it, and contrivances that make everything feel simultaneously old hat and perplexing. Join the madcap fun as "free spirit" Lillian (Ricci) wakes up next to total stranger Luke (Timothy Olyphant) in the hotel room adjacent to two speed-balling scum-bags and their whores that is itself right next door to kooky holistic naturalist Constance (Lolita Davidovich), who lives beside a constantly-practicing violinist. Owning the whole shebang is angry Reynaldo (Joaquim de Almeida), whose daughter Ramona (Patricia Velasquez) thinks she's pregnant and wants to marry some pathetic white guy. Neither edgy nor fluffy, No Vacancy limps along in that hinterland of bad ideas that somehow endured through production.
A late cameo by Robert Wagner as a foul-mouthed pimp comes off with the same impact that a bigoted Betty White comes off with in Bringing Down the House (sour, unfunny, sad); the rest of it plays like an over-priced community theatre production of a homegrown playwright's first script. (It might dawn at some point in the film that this is exactly like an execrable Spanish sex farce called Kilometer 0--and if it does, hand-in-hand with that recognition is the realization that you've wasted an awful lot of your brain retaining memories of terrible movies.) Running around in circles, bursting in on people at weird moments, screaming, falling into the pool in slow motion--better to order the latest "Girls Gone Wild" video, which may have the same plot and sense of humour, but at least has the self-respect not to be deluded about what it is.
Lions Gate ferries No Vacancy home in a blissfully no-frills DVD presentation. One thing that can also be said for the film itself is that it's short (under 90 minutes), so although it feels like it's three-hours long, it could easily have felt like four. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is unremarkable and often soft, exposing the TV-cheap production values (perfect for the material, as it happens), while the Dolby 2.0 stereo audio underutilizes the soundstage to the extreme. (Though, to be fair, not much opportunity for atmospherics comes into play.) Only the song selections--the highlight of which is The Bouncing Souls (this is, of course, no highlight at all)--exhibit anything in the way of directionality. Aside from a perfunctorily animated menu and chapter selections, there are no extras on this disc. Originally published: January 26, 2005.