The Movie Guru: Chris Hemsworth, Jon Hamm not enough to save ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’
The Movie Guru
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What: “Bad Times at the El Royale.”
Rated: R for strong violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity.
Written by: Drew Goddard.
Directed by: Drew Goddard.
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthis Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth and more.
Grade: One and a half stars.
“Bad Times at the El Royale” feels like a script that accidentally got sent to the studio too early.
If writer/director Drew Goddard had held onto it for a few more edits before bringing it to the screen, it might have become a twisty, deeply satisfying thriller. Since that didn’t happen, however, “El Royale” ends up as nothing more than a collection of potentially interesting ideas that have a few nice moments but never really go anywhere.
The movie starts with several strange figures all coming to the El Royale, a hotel situated on the divide between Nevada and California. Each of them have a host of secrets and their own reason for being there. When their secrets are revealed and their goals start clashing, violence erupts that threatens to consume everything in its path.
Goddard was clearly trying for a Tarantino-esque feel to the movie, which is full of shady figures, ridiculously dramatic plot twists and monologues that don’t really add anything to the story. At his best, Tarantino can keep a tight rein on the bloody insanity he creates.
Goddard, however, throws more balls in the air than he can properly juggle. Details that seem like they’re supposed to be significant to the plot get abandoned halfway through, and storylines that the movie invests considerable time in stop abruptly enough to give the audience whiplash. One of the most dramatic lines in the movie, one that seems like the perfectly-timed reveal of all the answers we’ve been craving, dead-ends into a random plot diversion that has almost nothing to do with what happens before and after.
There are a few truly great moments, including everything sung by Cynthia Erivo and one particular twist that hit just as hard I believe the director hoped it would. There are also several potentially interesting ideas, about the nature of fate and chance and how our sins come back to haunt us. The movie never really does anything with those ideas, but at least they’re there.
The cast has a few genuine highlights. Chris Hemsworth is surprising as a wannabe Manson-style cult leader, turning his usual charm into something brittle and fake. Jeff Bridges is basically himself, or at least his onscreen persona, but he does have some of the most genuine-seeming onscreen emotion in the whole movie. Erivo does everything she can with what she’s been given, but the movie doesn’t give her much. I also wanted much, much more of Jon Hamm, largely thanks to his performance.
If the movie had been able to pull all this together, it could have been something special. Sadly, all we were left with is a mess and a dream of what might have been.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at email@example.com.