BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE Review: 7 out of 10 (Lots of Style But Too Much Substance)
Drew Goddard has done it again—sorta. BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE is a neo-noir thriller that brings in plenty of twists and turns and a few chuckles too. It also, at times, feels like a film that is a bit too self-aware, like a narcissist who preens at the mirror a bit too long too. The film stars Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, and Chris Hemsworth. Set in 1969, the plot follows seven strangers who each are hiding dark secrets that come to a head on one night in a shady hotel on the California-Nevada border.
To say too much here would take away the joy of the film and the discoveries it brings. That is most of the fun that the film offers. What the movie also requires is to try not to think too much about the hows or whys that all of these people have arrived here. Some arrivals at the El Royale are distinctly intentional. Others seem to be random. The milieu of the characters seems both random and yet fateful. Goddard carefully walks this tightrope in his script and (nearly) pulls it off for the audience. Unfortunately, some of the contrivances also feel tacked on and haphazard, which weakens an otherwise fun thriller.
As the mysteries of the El Royale and her guests begin to unravel, the film moves into a more non-linear storytelling mode, carefully unpacking each character’s backstory and motivations. Like the hotel itself, there is some style to the storytelling that is smile inducing. Jon Hamm’s traveling salesman bit might be one of the greatest cinematic joys of 2018. As each of these characters orbit one another and eventually begin to bump, and finally, crash into one another, the film tries to weave their stories tighter and tighter to add to the tension of the film. It doesn’t really work. Instead, the movie undoes so much of the momentum that the first act offers. That is due to one big issue.
This film is too damn long. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, the film has more than a few scenes that are outright indulgent. And despite red herrings and plot twists, the film reveals enough of its story and the characters by the 2nd act that it becomes readily apparent to the audience what the endgame is. And yet the film takes far on gone too long to get there.
Drew Goddard is a bit too clever for his own good. One might assume he had final cut in this film, which is too bad because it badly needs an edit. Having said that, there is a lot here to like and for those who are willing to be patient and forgive a few contrivances and an overly long 3rd act, BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE can be a good time at the theater.