Movie Review: Bad Times at the El Royale

Mystery? Music? Mayhem? If you enjoy any of the three, then this is the film for you. Directed by Drew Goddard, the film takes place in Lake Tahoe at the El Royale Hotel. Once a fixture in its heyday boasting pictures of Hollywood’s finest, it’s not a rundown motel that straddles the border separating California and Nevada.

Since the El Royale had peaked so long ago, it regularly goes unused. So it was a pretty big deal when four people arrived within minutes of each other. Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges) arrives on business, Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) is a traveling backup singer, and a friendly, southern Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) is a vacuum salesman in town for a conference. As the three make small talk in the lobby, they’re eventually greeted by a belated bellhop named Miles (Lewis Pullman) who gives them a very shaky introduction to the hotel. Guests have the option of staying on the California side or Nevada side and must sign the ledger before getting their keys. Just as the last person is about to leave, a woman with no name (Dakota Johnson) busts through the door, takes her key, and signs the ledger “F***you.”

BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYAL
Photo Credit: Kimberley French; TM & © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

So imagine, the film has a comedic presence already, the music is fun since its 1960’s America (reminded me of the Baby Driver soundtrack), and no character is quite like the other. The problems arrive when the film goes full-on Vantage Point (or The Affair for you Showtime fans) and gives a rundown of every storyline. With the later additions of Chris Hemsworth and Cailee Spaeny that makes seven storylines to go through in two hours and 21 minutes. Had they made haste with the backstories and shortened some of the slower scenes this would’ve been an amazing film.

Jeff Bridges trods along through the entire 141-minute affair with quips here and there but is just far too slow for me. The writing was great. I loved it. Because it was so great, the pitfalls in lengthy backstories and total runtime did it in for me. Without giving away any spoilers, just know that Chris Hemsworth and Jon Hamm straight up bring the comedy in the film. But if you truly want to know what happens when a salesman, a priest, a singer, two runaways, a bellhop, and a cult leader walk into a bar, you’ll have to see the film for yourself.

7 out of 10.

-Jon J.

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