Bad Times’ slow times make it too long

Waikato Times - - Entertainment -

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.

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