Review – ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’

Goddard's film wants to be clever, but it never can seem to stick the landing.

Review by J.T. Johnson

DIRECTOR: Drew Goddard
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Seamus McGarvey
WRITER: Drew Goddard
MUSIC: Michael Giacchino

“Bad Times at the El Royale” wants to be as clever as Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers. Sadly, it does not reach the level of any of those directors. It has an impressive cast and the directing ain’t bad, but it’s the director’s screenplay that proves to be the biggest casualty that tanks the whole movie.

When the movie starts, it sets up that the mystery of the hotel is something worth looking into. It then proceeds to throw all of that aside and we’re supposed to care solely for the hotel’s current occupants. That would be okay if it weren’t for the fact that the hotel’s mystery is set up well before our characters’ stories.

The movie introduces us to Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), salesman Laramie Sullivan (Jon Hamm) and Southern hippie Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson). These four characters are checked in by Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman) and they all have something to hide. This is another problem with the movie.

There are several major characters that I’m supposed to care about, but I only really spend time with Father Daniel and singer Darlene. The other characters are either tied to the mystery of the hotel that the story doesn’t seem to give a damn about or we don’t get to spend enough time with any of them in order to care about them when things finally start to go down.

The movie also tries to keep the twists coming, but there are so many twists and turns that even this novelty begins to wear off after some time. It also doesn’t help that the movie’s runtime is way too long and by the time it had ended, I was just exhausted more than entertained. There were times, though, where I really wanted this film to work.

This is especially true when I was thinking about how good the performances are across the board. Bridges, in particular, was astounding as Father Flynn and I actually found myself caring for his character above all others. The same can be said for Erivo as Darlene because, again, we get to spend more time with her than with the others.

“Bad Times” would have been greatly improved if Goddard had just cut all of the stuff out about the mystery of the hotel itself. In truth, it has very little to do with the characters at all. It doesn’t impact all but one of the characters in the first place and it could have saved the movie some time and gotten rid of one less character that wasn’t really needed to begin with.

Finally, the ending of the movie is also anticlimactic mostly due to the use of a deus ex machina that conveniently pushes the story to the next point. I was left disappointed in this movie because I felt that a good movie was always somewhere just below the surface. Unfortunately, it just couldn’t break through the film’s considerably flawed script despite a strong cast with strong performances.

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