“Bad Times at the El Royale”

LOUISA:  2.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The sheer arrogance of “Bad Times at the El Royale,” a film that suffocates at the hands of its own grandstanding, is a tedious lesson for aspiring filmmakers: never, ever make a talky film if your dialogue isn’t compelling. This dark crime thriller falls on the tired rather than vibrant end of the creative spectrum, which is a shame when you consider the talent both in front of and behind the camera.

Seven strangers with sinister secrets meet by chance at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale, a hotel with its own dark past that straddles the California and Nevada border. The story takes place over the course of one night as mysteries are unearthed in a violent, bloody fashion. The end result is akin to something a film student would make if they were trying to (poorly) imitate Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson. Someone should remind writer / director Drew Goddard there’s a fine line between an homage and a rip-off.

The cast (including Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Chris Hemsworth, Dakota Johnson, and Jon Hamm) elevates the material, but their characters are boring. The puzzle unfolds at a snail’s pace. I don’t mind waiting if there’s a good payoff, but the only purpose the sluggishness serves is to mask the fact that there’s very little story. Goddard is often too clever for his own good. Watch as he overstuffs every clichéd indie element (from idiosyncratic camera language, to stale characters like a cult leader called Billy Lee and an ex-con priest, to showy staging that’s unnecessarily set to oldies music) to try to create wannabe iconic scenes (he fails). This is precisely the type of pretentious, style-over-substance, arty crap that makes audiences hate movies like this.

Case in point: the not-so-original idea of telling the story from the overlapping point of view of each character, with each room at the motel setting the parameters for an individual chapter-like structure. Even worse is that while the soundtrack features several hip arrangements of classic 60s songs, it relies so heavily on music (please don’t make a drinking game out of every shot of a jukebox needle hitting a record or anytime a character laments that it’s “too quiet,” or you’ll be plastered before the halfway mark) that the repetitiveness feels silly. There’s even an irritating MacGuffin (that’s never resolved) to add further frustration.

The film’s strength comes from the violent, artistic visuals, but it’s nothing that you haven’t seen before. This movie looks great, and the set design is a feast for those who appreciate a keen attention to detail. What a shame there’s not enough story to back it up.

14 comments

  1. It’s fine. A little disappointing, I thought there would be a stronger story and more commentary and/or a deconstruction like Goddard with TCINW.

    Like the cast, with a better movie, I think Bridges and Erivo would be worthy of award love.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good review. I have mixed feelings about this movie. I’m not so much interested in the film’s narrative, but rather the film’s cast. I might check out this film someday, but not immediately.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This review is awful. Arrogant, half formed empty diatribe. Who are these little sheep buying your nonsense. 🤤🤪🤣🤣

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    1. This review is spot-on. Except I’d give it 1/2 a star.

      I want to know what critics are being paid to give this overlong crap positive reviews. The acting is nothing special. The premise is tired. Subplots such as the location or the FBI involvement or those two rolled-up bundles the singer pointlessly takes from her car to the lobby then to her room are just dropped.

      Style…? What style other than retro-length padding? Bad Times is a vanity project you’ll beg to be over by the halfway mark. Tedious and stupid…as original as Trump screaming FAKE NEWS every damned day.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Um, do you mean the rolls of padding she unrolled and fixed to the wall to deaden the sound of her singing from other? I guess you missed that? What else did you miss?

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  4. Movies are never that good or this bad. This review piles on the contempt seemingly for no other purpose than to draw eyeballs, and in that, I guess it succeeded in my case. But that success should bring the author no satisfaction in a world already too invested in extremes and intractable, over-the-top positions. Being good at being part of the problem is nothing to feel good about. It’s as if the review were written to portray what the reviewer condemns: empty, derivative style and no substance.

    Bad Times (et al) has a few things to say that the reviewer ignores, about the destructive nature of obsessions and grand purposes, about the difference between masculinity and toxic masculinity, about the meaning you find in what you have, however little it is, and so on. For example, Chris Hemsworth’s larger-than-life cult leader shrivels before our eyes so quickly it’s almost as if the filmmaker(s) were saying something about the emptiness of grandiosity (set, of course, in a once-grand hotel that is now almost empty, and certainly a much, much smaller place than it once was, much like Billy Lee is so much smaller than he appears, or wants to appear). Without spoiling who is who, it’s fitting that the characters who survive are those with the simplest, most down-to-earth motives and agendas. Those who think they have a greater purpose doggedly follow it into oblivion, unable to accept anything less. Greatness or self-immolation. There are miscues, of course – no film is that good, remember – but overall, it works.

    Perhaps there’s a massage there the reviewer might take to heart.

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    1. Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment! I know many love this movie for a lot of the reasons I didn’t like it. And that’s okay! It still registers as one of the biggest disappointments of 2018 for me.

      Like

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