Bad Times at the El Royale
Starring Cynthia Erivo, Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Lewis Pullman, Cailee Spaeny, Xavier Dolan, Nick Offerman
It’s only Drew Goddard’s second film as director, but the television producer has assembled an exciting cast in this Tarantino-esque thriller. Like most mysteries, the less you know, the more exciting the suspense, Bad Times at the El Royale is no exception. A priest, a pop singer and a vacuum cleaner salesman walk into a once glamorous hotel that sits on the California/Nevada state line. The possibilities seem endless, but the more Goddard’s script unfolds, dispelling the mystery, the less exciting this film becomes. Film newcomer Cynthia Erivo (who is playing the lead role in the upcoming Harriett Tubman biopic) is the real star here, but Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) is at his usual high-caliber best. Hamm, Hemsworth, and Johnson have more limited screen presence and all three are continuously overrated despite their top billing.
Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Hamm), the racist, sexist, obnoxious vacuum cleaner salesman was waiting to check into the El Royale. In absence of a receptionist, Sullivan, Father Daniel Flynn (Bridges) and songstress Darlene Sweet (Erivo) contemptuously get to know one another until Miles (Pullman), apparently the only staff member, finally appears to check them in. Even though he was first in line, Sullivan allows all the other guests to check in ahead of him enabling him to soak up information of each of them. They all curiously select rooms on the Nevada side of the property, including Emily Summerspring (Johnson), who blasts into the motel most hurriedly. After everyone is checked in, they all begin to reveal their true purposes for staying at this particular hotel on such a rainy night.
Tighter editing might have made the bloated 'El Royale' flow better in the second half, but it’s an imperfect film sprinkled with moments of brilliance.
A mystery is only as good as it’s sustained tension and Goddard’s two-and-a-half-hour film wanes as he devotes more time to the colorful cast of characters than to the story. Ambiguity takes the viewer deep enough into the plot that you have to finish the story. Violence is a big part of El Royale, which is to be expected from the guy behind Cabin in the Woods. There are surprises around every corner and a well written bit with two-way mirrors that the script sucks the life out of. 'El Royale' is an expansive film that offers visual glimpses into the lives of each character, divided into Tarantino like chapters based on the rooms each character chooses. The chapters work until they don’t because rooms turn into simple names and supporting characters and it ends up more gimmicky and less effective.
When Hemsworth (Thor: Ragnarök) arrives in the final act, the entire mood of the movie slips into farce. The shirtless actor makes far more of an impression with his abs than the cult leader he is portraying. Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey) also doesn’t do very much in the larger scope of the film. Tighter editing might have made the bloated 'El Royale' flow better in the second half, but it’s an imperfect film sprinkled with moments of brilliance. The motel itself is more interesting than the handful of characters, and losing sight of that is one of the bigger downfalls. Goddard seems more interested in culminating with a bloodbath, at the expense of any satisfactory conclusion to the story. If the filmmaker could balance restraint throughout his films, there would be a much more even flow.
The sum of 'El Royale’s' brilliant parts do not equal an overall brilliant film.