Four Play

FOUR PLAY (2001)

TAGLINE: None (although “Do not attempt to operate heavy machinery after watching this film” might have been apt.)

IMDB rating: 5.0/10 (You’ve got to be joking)

Four Play’ examines the intertwining lives and loves of a quartet of 40-somethings working on a TV sitcom in London.

Ben – a failed New York writer hoping to resurrect his career in the UK– is in a relationship with Fiona – a French make up artist and part time historian with dreams of writing the definitive work on Jacobean London. However Ben is also sweet on Carly – the show’s leading lady, much to the chagrin of her husband and producer Allen, who might also have more than a passing fancy for Fiona. Unravelling this love rhombus leads to break ups, make ups and – ultimately – a greater understanding of their own lives.

Of course taking the time to carefully sum up the movie in a sober and concise manner such as this would imply that the plot itself was similarly clear.

It is not.

Trying to actually navigate the story is like six hours spent stumbling through a particularly tricky maze on a miserable Sunday afternoon. The problem is that, at some point, night is going to fall and you are going to get trapped in there. So you need to get out. But it won’t let you. Because at every turn there’s just another 8 foot hedge made up of jagged brambles and poorly-conceived plot contrivances.


The Zen-Like clarity of the 'Four Play' plot

You shout for help but no one hears you – any sound you make just gets deafened by the screams of par-boiled characterisation. In a desperate attempt to escape, you scale one of the hedges but it’s not until you get to the top that the true horror hits you. Watching ‘Four Play’ is like just having hedge upon hedge upon hedge. In every direction. As far as the eye can see.


The “quote” on the DVD cover suggests that it is “in the tradition of Notting Hill and Four Weddings.” This, we have since discovered, is akin to saying that getting your ‘nads caught between a couple of swinging house bricks is “in the tradition of” being fellated by a Playboy centrefold.

But rather than making comparisons to previous giants in the romcom field – perhaps the sheer f*ck-nuggetry of a movie like the luvvie-a-thon ‘Closer’ would have been a more apt bedfellow. Four self-obsessed individuals live their self-indulgent lives of utter self-interest, leaving audiences with little option but to seriously consider self-harm – for no other reason than to prove they still have the capacity to feel something… anything.

four play

Hilarity on the set of 'Four Play'

Then again, ‘Closer’ has more laughs – and more action – and doesn’t feature Colin Firth as a hard drinking pub brawler. Colin Firth. A pub brawler. Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently Mr Darcy likes nothing more than a pint and a punch up of a Friday night. Such street fighting activity is supposed to provide much of the film’s levity. It does. Although certainly not for the reasons intended.

At almost every level the film more than stacks up against the kind of cinematic sewage we’ve been forced to wade through thus far: sequences barely cut together, characters and their motivations change from scene to scene, the plot lurches like a teenager at closing time between supposedly heart-wrenching drama and end-of-the-pier ‘careful vicar’ farce.

What sets ‘Four Play’ apart, though, is that it’s a rare example that could, and for that matter should, be a lot better. It has the scope – considering the amount of characters, locations and scenes shot on London streets (never a straightforward thing to achieve). It clearly has some budget – none of the stuff above is exactly inexpensive. It even has the cast – as we all know Firth has subsequently gone on to stammer to a very nice golden doorstop courtesy of the Oscar voters.

Nothing we’ve seen so far can rival ‘Four Play’ in terms of its potential. And yet it could be the worst of the lot. So where does it all go wrong? Step forward writer, director and star Mike Binder.

four play

Steven Spielberg using Joan Allen as a human shield

Eagle-eyed readers will recognise Binder as the man of Tom Cruise’s dreams – or, more accurately, his pre-visions – in ‘Minority Report.’ Beyond just the one scene in Spielberg’s underrated sci-fi actioner you’d be forgiven, with a full pardon and a huge compensation cheque, for not being able to pick him out of a line up. And, so in turns out, with good reason.

Binder clearly thinks he’s Woody Allen and that ‘Four Play’ is his ‘Manhattan.’ In truth both movies feature a contemporary metropolitan location, the nitty-gritty infighting of a group of upwardly-mobile types and in both the same actress plays a leading role – Mariel Hemingway hang your head in shame – but at that point the similarities come to shuddering halt. Do not pass “Go.” Do not collect any Academy Awards.

Research has shown that the movie also goes by the name ‘Londinium’ – the title of the book the make-up artist / social historian publishes to wild acclaim almost 87 minutes after viewers stop giving a toss. We can’t help but wonder if this change is the cinematic equivalent of the Witness Protection Programme, effectively done to prevent all those involved from coming face to face with anyone they may have wronged in the past. Yes, we’re talking to you Colin Firth, Stephen Fry and Jack Dee.

Fervid absolutist types (like us), or those that simply want to demonstrate how little they know and how loudly they’re prepared to show it (us also), might argue that ‘Four Play’ is everything that’s wrong with British cinema. Or, indeed, that it’s everything that’s wrong with cinema full stop. Or, still further, that it’s everything that’s wrong with everything.

We’ll simply say that it goes down in film history as either the least romantic comedy, or the least comedic romance that you could ever hope to be forced, Ludovico–style, to endure. And we don’t care how cheap it works out, even if ‘Four Play’ only costs £1 we’re still not paying for full sex.

The ‘Four Play’ / ‘Londinium’ Trailer



  1. Mars says:

    “even if ‘Four Play’ only costs £1 we’re still not paying for full sex”. A little bit of wee came out.

    So sad that even when he bulks up as a “bar room brawler (?)” Colin Firth still exudes a sense of forlorn campness that might very well be accompanied by the smell of wet dog and a hint of Kouros. But that might just be me.

    Might I suggest bathing your eyeballs in your own urine. It worked in the first world war to toughen up the feet of those in the trenches, so, you never know, what with you being on the front line an’ all. (And I’d hate to think you were putting yourselves in any kind of danger – oh no, wait, what am I saying… Dance, video monkey, dance!)

    Genius report, gentlemen, I look forward to more.

  2. Mikey says:

    After watching ‘Four Play’, I realised such concepts as ‘Love’ and ‘Joy’ were a construct and immediately dumped my fiance. She was heartbroken. Until she too viewed the film. She now lives in a convent.

    • Mars says:

      After reading your review I realised that that I can never see “Four Play”. I will never have enough money to not live in my house ever again; eat my own food; drive my own car or afford the abuse I’ve lived with willingly all these – such that I cannot now live without it. And neither can my wife. Thanks for the heads-up Mikey. I’m now going off for some me time. Just in that corner over there. The one with the spiders that only have five legs and mohicans. Cheers.

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