New Movie Review: “Bad Times at the El Royale” (2018)

Drew Goddard, did you… did you make this movie just for me??

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018); Written and directed by Drew Goddard

Bad Times at the El Royal isn’t based off a comic, book, existing movie; it’s not a reboot, remake or retread. It’s a completely original piece, harder and harder to find these days. And… for all that…it’s… pretty good. Bad Times is one of those films that is good, there’s no question about that, and yet, it isn’t quite great. It straddles the line, back and forth, but is, for the most part, just pretty good. Which makes writing this that much harder, I just don’t have all that much to say.

The story is very Tarantinoesque; seven individuals, of varying degrees of criminality, trapped in a small location as they all attempt to get out ahead. Empty and beautiful, the enigmatic grandeur of the El Royale draws in this spider-web of characters, but not all will leave. Effortlessly stylish, full of crisp, cutting dialogue, mysteries aplenty, and with a mesmerizing soundtrack, Bad Times will doubtlessly entertain. The film starts off strong, the secrets and style piling up, a whirlwind of mystery and intrigue. Yet, as the movie progresses, the secrets mean less and less, and, by the end, they don’t even really matter anymore. That’s the biggest flaw of the film, it presents the audience with very interesting characters and scenarios, but it doesn’t know just quite how to weave it all together perfectly. The questions the film asks about the characters and their motives are more interesting than the actual answers.  Flashbacks reveal too much (dispelling mystery) or too little (causing confusion). In the end, Drew Goddard does a good job but not quite a great one.

One of Goddard’s strengths as a director really shines: he is an actor’s director. Every single performance here is phenomenal. From Jon Hamm’s drawling everyman salesman to Cynthia Erivo’s nervous confidence to Jeff Bridge’s gruff feigned innocence to Chris Hemsworth’s magnetizing energy, everybody does a fantastic job. Goddard also has a real knack for visual storytelling. The first scene of the film is one of the coolest looking things I’ve seen in a while, while also cleverly delivering some introductory exposition.

The best way to summarize the movie is that every individual scene is fantastic: well shot, well acted, great music, amazing use of color (who doesn’t love rainy ’60’s neon?) but the general structure and scene to scene editing doesn’t quite pull it all together into a beautiful whole. Usually close to being great, sometimes even beyond great, rarely less than good, Bad Times is just shy of being the next Baby Driver or Reservoir Dogs. 

I personally really, really loved Bad Times at the El Royale, however, this may be due to the film being made of all the things I crave (late ’60’s style, cigarettes, rain, a killer soundtrack, terrible people coming together to dupe each other, Jon Hamm, mustaches, dilapidated hotels, the transition of 50’s-60’s glitz and glam to the grit of the ’70s’) rather than the film’s excellence. It’s a fun, neo-noirish gathering of music, color, and character where the individual parts are better than the cohesive whole. Well worth watching, won’t change your world, but if it looked like something you’d like, definitely go see it.

Also, in my showing, we had some plastered teenage girl vomit through the opening ten minutes of the movie, so that was wild.

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