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Case Number 06089: Small Claims Court

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No Vacancy (1999)

Lionsgate // 1999 // 83 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // January 28th, 2005

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All Rise...

The sign says there's No Vacancy, but Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger will gladly give you his room if it means he can get out of here sooner.

Editor's Note

Our review of No Vacancy (2012), published August 28th, 2014, is also available.

The Charge

Check in for some sexy, comic relief!

The Case

Madcap…wacky…hijinks…hysterical…loony…if any of those marketing descriptors suit your fancy, you're in for a hoot. This slice-of-life film explores one day in the life of a wacky bunch of transient hotel residents in SoCal. The main story concerns Lillian (Christina Ricci, Monster) who wakes up to find the booze-addled Luke (Timothy Olyphant, Rock Star) in her bed. After she tries to kill him, they find a "surprising" amount in common, and soon those little feelings creep in to sour their disdain for each other. (In other words, they hook up later.)

About the nicest thing I can say about No Vacancy is this: If you concentrate hard and persevere through the barrage of distractions, you'll glean some witty lines of dialogue that will momentarily charm you and possibly make you laugh. You could pause the movie and write them down in your notebook, save them to utter at later opportune moments. The writer, Marius Balchunas, has a good enough sense of wit and timing to force some of the material to stick.

Marius Balchunas is also the director, and he doesn't wear that hat as well. The "barrage of distractions" referred to above is what would be line delivery, pacing, editing, plot, and theme in other films. No Vacancy is the kind of movie that establishes conflicts, and then cheerfully ignores the establishing evidence ten minutes later. It is the kind of movie with such patently obvious solutions that a five-year-old could navigate them.

An example of the former: A young Latina woman wants to marry a white boy, but her father is violently against it. Yet when the hapless lad shows up, padre is all smiles and open arms. I thought at first that the wily señor was particularly cunning, playing a reverse psychology trick to disgust his daughter into not liking the youth any longer. But it eventually became clear that the prior heated arguments had been erased from the virtual blackboard. Of course, the audience wasn't given any clues into father's change of heart. It may be character driven, but don't ask penetrating questions about the characters in No Vacancy.

An example of the latter is when two kooky stoners enlist the services of two quirky escorts and then get it on all night with chains, feathers, pom-poms, licorice whips, and lots of squealing. (I could mention that, although No Vacancy is rated R for sexual situations, at no time does anyone remove clothing. The orgiastic writhings are cloaked by sweaty T-shirts, poofy white underpants, bustiers that could repel shrapnel, and other chaste garments.) The next morning, the ladies demand their bonus for staying all night, and the wacky crystal meth addicts offer them gumdrops and pocket lint. Don't worry, the ladies warn, you'll get a visit from our "representative" later today. The ladies leave, and the guys spend the rest of the day lounging around the hotel begging for money. I guess splitting town didn't occur to them.

And so it goes, with duo after duo of colorful characters in equally ridiculous situations. No Vacancy fails to generate even the slightest bit of empathy for (or interest in) the parade of personalities. I wasn't so much actively watching it to see what would happen as passively observing while the next "wacky" moment played out. That was slightly odd, because No Vacancy seems to have all of the parts in approximately the right places. It is an example of what happens to a quirky, but seemingly competent, movie when there is no actual chemistry. I can see how the project was greenlighted; it just didn't materialize into entertainment.

The most puzzling thing about this failure is that the cast is filled to the brim with competent, experienced actors. Christina Ricci, Olek Krupa, Lolita Davidovich, Joaquim de Almeida, and Robert Wagner have all impressed me, even wowed me, in other roles. Heck, even the spectacularly annoying stoner character was played by Steven Schub, who has at other times been deadly serious. Though each of the above actors manages to claw out a captivating moment or two, on the whole they fall far short of their potential.

The one actor who rises above the uninspired hullabaloo is Timothy Olyphant, who shares the "A" storyline with Christina Ricci. She isn't given much to do, but he is given enough to hack out a living character. His performance is good enough that it even seems to transcend the effects of contrast that might artificially inflate our estimation.

The sound and video quality are passable, but not particularly impressive (lots of grain, lack of detail), and there are no extras. Timothy Olyphant might have made his role work, but it isn't a strong enough draw for you to seek out this film. My gavel hand has been twitching since the moment my fingers touched the keyboard: Guilty as charged.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 39

Perp Profile

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Bad
• Comedy
• Drama
• Romance
• Romantic Comedies

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailers


• IMDb

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