Thriller en­ter­tain­ing but un­even

Good and bad times are had in Tarantino homage

Sunshine Coast Daily - Caloundra Weekly - - LIFE | MOVIE REVIEW - Wen­lei Ma

A PRIEST, a vac­uum sales­man, a hip­pie and a lounge singer walk into a ho­tel lobby. It sounds like the start of a bad joke but it’s the start of an en­ter­tain­ing if ul­ti­mately un­even Tarantino homage, Bad Times at the El Royale.

Call­ing the movie, writ­ten and di­rected by Drew God­dard (Cabin in the

Woods), a Tarantino homage is not to write it off as mere im­i­ta­tion be­cause it cer­tainly has its own stylis­tic touches and ideas.

But it does give you a sense of the vi­o­lence-fu­elled time you’re in for – though mer­ci­fully it doesn’t have the chunks and chunks of Tarantino di­a­logue that used to be one of the rea­sons you com­mit­ted but re­cently be­came smug and self-in­dul­gent.

The El Royale is a ho­tel a year past its glory days af­ter it lost its gam­ing li­cence. Its big draw­card is that it sits right on the Cal­i­for­ni­aNe­vada state line. There’s a lit­eral red line run­ning right through its carpark and lobby area – a split that hints at the du­al­i­ties and se­crets of those within its walls.

Check­ing in for the night are Laramie Sul­li­van (Jon Hamm), the sales­man; Fa­ther Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), the priest; Dar­lene Sweet (Cyn­thia Erivo), the singer; and Emily Sum­mer­spring (Dakota John­son), a surly hip­pie.

The lone em­ployee is Miles (Lewis Pull­man), a ner­vous young man who tries to warn off the priest.

God­dard bal­ances ten­sion and re­lease well, un­der­cut­ting piv­otal mo­ments with flash­backs and switch­ing be­tween the per­spec­tives of char­ac­ters. The non-lin­ear struc­ture works well.

So it’s a shame it falls apart in the last act when Chris Hemsworth’s charis­matic cult leader char­ac­ter crashes the macabre party.

The char­ac­ter isn’t more than blus­ter and shirt­less­ness, with a heavy dose of pen­chant for vi­o­lence. And the tone switches to some­thing that’s much more con­ven­tional.

All the char­ac­ters are de­vel­oped to vary­ing de­grees but it’s Erivo’s Dar­lene and Bridges’ priest who are the most com­pelling – Erivo in par­tic­u­lar steals the film with her down-on-her-luck singer.

If the movie was more con­sis­tent, the ar­bi­trary vi­o­lence wouldn’t seem so pur­pose­less. And at more than two hours, the pac­ing starts to drag in the last 40 min­utes – God­dard’s Cabin

in the Woods was bet­ter paced than this, though Bad

Times at the El Royale is much more watch­able than the three-hour-long The Hate­ful Eight.

At its core, Bad Times at the El Royale is an engrossing, en­ter­tain­ing

noir-thriller with some ef­fec­tive set pieces and

stand-out per­for­mances. If only it had a bit more to say.

PHOTO: KIM­BER­LEY FRENCH

BAD TIMES: Jon Hamm, Jeff Bridges and Cyn­thia Erivo in a scene from the movie. Sup­plied by 20th Cen­tury Fox.

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