Bad Times at the El Royale turns into good times at the El Royale when shirtless Chris Hemsworth arrives.
Four strangers arrive at the used-to-be bustling El Royale hotel, set squarely on the line which separates Nevada from California. Tensions rise, and stakes build as each of the new guests realize there is more to them than meets the eye. Then all hell is let loose when radical Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) shows up to reclaim what is “his”.
Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Lewis Pullman, Cailee Spaeny, Chris Hemsworth, and a cameo from Nick Offerman make up the film’s eclectic cast; some members are lesser-known (Cailee Spaeny, Cynthia Erivo) while others are well-established (Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm) and it is the ranging ability of the cast to create their unique characters which help the film succeed in its framework. Bad Times at the El Royale is like a series of character studies and it is the talent of the actors which lends success to this particular structure; everyone brings their style to the character they portray. Jeff Bridges is the closest thing to a lead, but everyone has their moment to shine, Hamm’s earlier on and Hemsworth’s not until towards the end.
Jeff Bridges is a charming old man with a dark secret, Lewis Pullman is an innocent bellhop with an even darker secret, Jon Hamm doesn’t actually sell vacuums, Dakota Johnson might’ve kidnapped someone, and poor Cynthia Erivo is a black singer just pursuing her ambition stuck in the middle of it all. The movie takes lots of pride in its characters and wants to give them all time to develop so the audience can make their own opinion of them. The El Royale itself is a character and as the film progresses, we discover more about its past, the things which have occurred there, and all the dark corridors hiding from those not looking – luckily, the characters in this film are looking. El Royale likes to withhold information about its characters and only reveal something when deemed necessary – leaving characters a mystery for varying lengths of time.
The dialogue in Bad Times at the El Royale approaches that of a distinct voice but never quite captures it. It’s witty, entertaining dialogue but it never elevates itself to that of Tarentino’s and is sometimes lengthy. Speaking of Tarentino, the film breaks itself up into different chapters or pulps, similar to that of the great Pulp Fiction. But despite being non-linear, we don’t need to see every scene of the movie to understand what is going on and the film does not come full circle like Pulp Fiction did. The soundtrack is one of my favorite parts of the film, as it blends with both the tone and time period, featuring songs such as Can’t Take My Eyes Off You by Frankie Valli and Bend Me, Shape Me by The American Breed. There also was a certain amount of unexpected violence in the film which surprised me in a good way.
The primary issue I have with the film is it takes a while to get to its wild final act. Plot development strolls and doesn’t incorporate its main antagonist until the final act. There were scenes which could’ve been shortened a couple minutes and saved time – we get it, Cynthia Erivo can sing!
While this movie did not live up to some of the praise I heard for it, it is miles ahead of this year’s earlier hotel film, Hotel Artemis. The El Royal is worth checking into, just maybe don’t get a suite. 7/10