Drew Goddard, it seems, isn’t one for being pigeonholed. From writing The Martian, World War Z and the TV series Daredevil, he now steps behind the camera too and brings us Bad Times At The El Royale, something that isn’t like anything he’s wrote before.
Jeff Bridges (“Kingsman: The Golden Circle“, “Seventh Son“) is back to his sparkling best as a thief-dressed-as-a-priest who is also slowly falling into the grips of dementia. To take back the money from his last score, the one he’s just done a long stretch in prison for, he checks into the El Royale hotel, where the money is hidden in the floor. If only he could remember which room.
It transpires that the room he needs is occupied by singer Darlene Sweet, Cynthia Erivo (“Widows”, “Mr Selfridge (TV)”), who has checked in to the hotel as it’s cheap, before heading on to Reno and her next gig.
John Hamm (“Baby Driver“, “Mad Men (TV)”) also checks in to the hotel at the same time, he’s a hoover salesmen, or so he says. Their attempts to check-in are interrupted when Dakota Johnson (“Black Mass“, “Fifty Shades Of Grey”) noisily pulls into the parking lot, she doesn’t want to be bothered, or say much, which has something to do with her sister, Cailee Spaeny (“Pacific Rim: Uprising“, “Counting To 1000 (Short)”), whose in a bad way, in her trunk.
These social misfits are welcomed to the hotel, eventually, by cleaner / bartender and check-in clerk Miles, Lewis Pullman (“Aftermath“, “The Ballard Of Lefty Brown”), who has a lot to hide himself, as does the hotel he works at and all of the new guests.
As if these social misfits aren’t enough, and trust me they are, there is still Thor himself Chris Hemsworth to contend with. He arrives later in the guise of a sort of cult leader, hell-bent on taking back what’s his, which it transpires is Cailee Spaeny.
Goddard, taking many queues from the likes of Quentin Tarantino, spins us a yarn that sees us taken back in time via flashbacks, further back than the sixties setting we’re already in, as we discover more about our unusual posse’s history.
The issue with this is there are too many of them and not all of them are that interesting, some border on tedious. It’s a theme throughout Bad Times At El Royale, pacing, it’s a slow movie and that’s before we get to the two hours and 21-minute run-time.
Goddard takes too long to fill in the gaps on our guests, sometimes it’s not all that necessary as you’ve managed to piece it together yourself, but still it arrives, drilled home like a Disney message.
When it does work it’s brilliant. Lewis Pullman has a cracker of a storyline and is the only one to show his true colours once we’ve learnt his back story. But by the time you get to Hemsworth, for example, it’s old news.
Also borrowing from Tarantino, Goddard decides to show us the same scene from multiple antagonists’ points of view. Sadly, it all centres around one scene which we see four times and, each time, it doesn’t add a great deal to the previous version you’ve just seen.
What Bad Times At El Royale does have, however, are fantastic performances: Bridges is a stand-out, Hemsworth is creepy, Erivo handles herself with aplomb and Pullman is fantastic, the sets are great and the directing isn’t bad at all. It also has a fantastic soundtrack, mostly Motown records, it’s just a shame that it’s far too long and all a bit flat.