Review: Bad Times at the El Royale

Bad Times at the El Royale
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PLOT: On an evening in 1969, four strangers, a priest (Jeff Bridges), a singer (Cynthia Erivo), a traveling salesman (Jon Hamm), and a rebellious young woman (Dakota Johnson) check-in to the run down El Royale hotel, which straddles the state line between Nevada and California. By the night’s end, all four strangers will prove to be hiding potentially deadly secrets, with their unearthing coinciding with the arrival of a charismatic cult leader (Chris Hemsworth) and his acolytes.

REVIEW: Drew Goddard’s BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE is a sneaky release from 20th Century Fox. Soon to be taken over by Disney, this movie will make you rue the merger as it’s so unlikely a healthy-budgeted, distinctly R-rated genre mash-up such as this one will be produced under their watch in the near future. Only Drew Goddard’s second film as a director (although he’s written many others), like CABIN IN THE WOODS, it’s a deeply idiosyncratic work, a stylish, epic-length noir that flirts with genre and some real life history adding up to the kind of movie they just don’t make anymore.

While it boasts an all-star cast, not even counting the character actors like Nick Offerman and Shea Whigham who pop up in smallish parts, BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE is thoroughly a star vehicle for Jeff Bridges and newcomer Cynthia Erivo. Bridges has a great part as a low-key priest who arrives at the El Royale for mysterious reasons and doesn’t quite seem to suit the collar. Without revealing too much, he’s got a violent past that’s about to catch up with him on this fateful evening, drawing the closest thing the film has to an innocent, Erivo’s soul singer, into his sphere.

On the road to Reno for a show but unable to afford a room in a fancier joint, Erivo is immediately suspicious of pretty much everyone, but also refuses to play the victim, being sharp-tongued and quick to wield a whiskey bottle as a weapon if need be. She’s a real star in the making. As for the rest, pretty much everyone is at the top of their game, with Dakota Johnson suitably mysterious as a woman on the run, while Jon Hamm is a motor-mouthed vacuum cleaner salesman who looks a little too square for his hepcat routine. Wanna bet he’s hiding something?

Everything eventually winds up orbiting around Chris Hemsworth as a somewhat Charles Manson-style figure, who descends on the hotel with his family to wreak havoc. Hemsworth is ably cast as the larger than life figure, but oddly enough many scenes towards the end are stolen by Lewis Pullman (son of Bill) as a nervous hotel clerk who, as he keeps telling Bridges’s maybe priest over and over again, has done terrible things.

It all adds up to a gorgeous noir/action pastiche and Bridges seems to be having a whale of a time playing the kind of hard-edged part someone like Lee Marvin or Gene Hackman might have tried in their prime. The song choices are superb, with a jukebox full of sixties hit dominating the soundtrack. There’s everything from Deep Purple to Frankie Valli. It runs a lengthy two hours and twenty minutes, but the running time whizzes by, maybe helped by the episodic, Tarantino-style structure that keeps this plugging along.

While BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE won’t be for everyone, I had a great time with it and it ranks as one of my favorites of the year so far. It’s an acquired taste, but boy have I acquired it. I hope everyone checks this one out as it deserves to be a sleeper hit.

Source: JoBlo.com



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