Thriller entertaining but uneven
Good and bad times are had in Tarantino homage
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.
BAD TIMES: Jon Hamm, Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Erivo in a scene from the movie. Supplied by 20th Century Fox.