Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson
Director: Drew Goddard
Running Time: 141 mins
Bad Times At The El Royale is an American film about a group of strangers who cross paths at the El Royale Hotel on the California-Nevada border, but as each of them holds a mysterious and secretive past, tensions and complications soon arise as the hotel becomes a nightmarish battleground.
An A-list cast, a fun premise, great production design. Bad Times At The El Royale may have a lot going for it on the outside, but the truth is that it’s a painfully frustrating film that darts back and forth between various narrative tangents, all over the course of two and a half painfully slow-moving and unnecessary hours.
On the whole, this really isn’t that great of a movie, and we’ll get into why that is in just a bit, but beforehand, let’s look at the few positives on display, the biggest of which comes in the shape of the excellent collection of performances.
An A-list ensemble cast isn’t always a gold mine for individually outstanding turns, but often leads to a great display of talent all working with one another in very entertaining fashion. In that, Jon Hamm is very smooth in his role, Jeff Bridges brings a good bit of mystery and uncertainty to his character, and Dakota Johnson’s patient but ultimately rather effective performance is great to watch throughout.
Those A-listers are all strong right the way through, but if there’s one performance that is a real individual stand-out, then it’s that of Cynthia Erivo, who proves an immensely likable central presence while still bringing an impressive level of unexpected grit and darkness to her character, making her an equally fascinating watch.
Along with the performances, special credit has to go to the production designers here, who do a fantastic job at creating a bizarre world in the isolated El Royale Hotel, with excellent attention to detail in the 50s/60s motel styling of the building. I would have liked to see a little more attention given to the Nevada-California divide within the hotel, and a more vivid presentation of just that, but the production and sets are fantastic throughout regardless.
Speaking of the Nevada-California divide, I really enjoyed the premise at first, with the ambiguity of a hotel straddling two states looking to set up some good fun and action later on. However, while it seems fun at first, I have to say that it’s a fairly pointless and underwhelming plot detail that really doesn’t have any impact on the story at all – and is hardly even mentioned apart from the nifty state-shaped keyrings.
And this is where my main problems with the movie start to come in, because the story is just a little bit all over the place, and while a lot of attention is put into making the plot as watertight as possible – which it admittedly is – the way it’s presented over the course of two and a half very long-winded hours is what ultimately makes Bad Times At The El Royale such a frustrating watch.
With the exception of a very sharp and exciting twenty minute period in the film’s middle portion, where we see all the hotel guests’ stories interweave in a very complex yet well-executed and satisfying way, this isn’t a film that ever manages to keep itself together, too often going off on ridiculously long tangents to explain the plot that could have realistically been achieved with a single line of dialogue.
The good thing about the story is that it doesn’t leave out any details, meaning that what could have been a totally confusing mess isn’t quite so, but director Drew Goddard is far too indulgent in his film throughout, seemingly refusing to cut anything about the characters’ backstories even if it means drawing your attention away from the main proceedings for a good ten or more minutes at a time.
The film’s slow pacing doesn’t do much to help that, and for what should be an intense thriller, things really do drag on, particularly into the final act. The first two-thirds of the movie, while not exceptional, still have a little bit of mystery about them, as you try to figure out what everybody’s motives are, and what is so strange about the hotel itself, but once that’s all revealed, the final act is a fairly pointless exercise as it drags once again to the finish, and again interrupted by a series of infuriating tangents and backstories that make it a painful slog to get the film over and done with.
Overall, I wasn’t all that impressed with Bad Times At The El Royale. Yes, it’s got a great cast with some strong performances, as well as some brilliant and immersive production design, but it failed to grab me with its poorly laid-out story, dragging on and on and on over the course of its undoubtedly overlong runtime as it flies back and forth between random tangents that really distract from the potential excitement of the main action, and that’s why I’m giving it a 6.7.