Bad Times’ slow times make it too long
Bad Times at the El Royale (R16) 142 mins
Directed by Drew Goddard Reviewed by Graeme Tuckett
Writer-director Drew Goddard made his directing debut with Cabin in the Woods,
which was as smart an upending of the classic tropes of an American teen horror movie as anyone ever needs to make.
As a writer, Goddard has everything from episodes of Buffy to Cloverfield and the very good The
Martian on his CV.
Bad Times at the El Royale is only Goddard’s second spin in the director’s chair. And to be fair, it’s almost a terrifically entertaining film. But at 142 minutes it is longer than Citizen Kane and heading towards Apocalypse Now and Pulp
Fiction territory, which for a movie that only ever needed to be daft and blackly comic fun, really is unforgivable.
It starts well.
After a brilliantly staged opening stanza, we fast-forward a decade to 1970. A near deserted and oddly creepy motel straddles the state line between Nevada and California, which adds nothing to the plot, except a few laughs about liquor and gambling rules being different on each side of the lounge.
In charge of the place is a shy young man named Miles, much nonplussed to see four apparent strangers arrive within an hour of each other, each looking for a room and practically wearing a sign around their necks saying ‘‘Not Who I Say I Am’’.
We learn pretty fast that Jon Hamm’s vacuum cleaner salesman has the skillset of a secret agent, and that Jeff Bridges’ priest is nothing of the sort. But just what Dakota Johnson’s Emily might be up to is anyone’s guess. Only Cynthia Erivo’s soul-singer Darlene seems to be telling the truth. But you wouldn’t want to bet on it. Bad Times at the El Royale
walks a very fine line between being derivative of and paying homage to several films I hold very dear. There’s a big dose of Reservoir
Dogs in the violent-strangersthrown-together setting, with echoes of Tarantino’s later The
Hateful Eight. I also picked up a whiff of the Coen brothers’ Barton
Fink, and maybe a late side order of Natural Born Killers.
All of which sounds promising. I love a decent modern neo-noir, with lashings of bleak humour, narcissistic characters doing unspeakable things to each other and a killer soundtrack thundering underneath to whisk us through the flat spots and lend a little unearned cultural freight to even the most risible scenes. And Bad
Times at the El Royale truly ticks
all the boxes.
But it just takes too damn long to get there. With a sharper and cleverer pair of hands in the edit suite, and maybe a critical friend to really interrogate the screenplay, I reckon Bad Times at the El Royale could have joined the classics Goddard is so obviously in thrall of.
I still enjoyed Bad Times. But getting out of the theatre
30 minutes earlier would have only made it better.