The trailer for Bad Time at the El Royale had me intrigued each time I saw it. Before watching it, I knew that the hotel straddled the California and Nevada border. I also knew that the mirrors in people's rooms were two-way so that the guests could be watched, but by who? The opening scene sets up a mystery as a lone guest buries a bag under the floorboards of his room as we watch through the mirror. The next scene brings us several years into the future, where we are introduced to Laramie Seymour Sullivan, Jon Hamm, a vacuum and hospitality goods salesman. Father Daniel Flynn, Jeff Bridges, helps Darlene Sweet, Cynthia Erivo, bring her belongings to the check-in desk. Darlene is a singer on her way to Reno. Emily Summerspring, Dakota Johnson, completes the guest list while Miles Milles, Lewis Pullman, checks them all in and gives them rooms. Chris Hemsworth and Cailee Spaeny join the fun later.
The cast is great. I am a Jeff Bridges fan, and his performance lives up to my expectations for him. He delivers the performance of what he was given as expected. I can’t point out any major flaws in the rest of the cast’s delivery. The problems with this movie are all in the plot. It is initially set up as a mystery of who is connected to the buried treasure in one of the rooms, but soon changes focus once the secret spying corridor behind the rooms is discovered. There is a video camera set up outside one room and there is a one-way intercom set up for each room. Miles runs the entire hotel but takes orders from the unexplained ‘Management.’ Laramie’s only purpose in the movie is to reveal the spy corridor and throw a red herring that doesn’t do enough to distract. That is a waste of talent as good as Jon Hamm.
Writer and Director Drew Goddard appears to be trying to replicate a Quentin Tarantino movie with Bad Times. The movie has multiple gruesomely violent scenes throughout that seem un-necessary to advancing the plot. The scenes appear to try and serve as character development, but they fail at that. The violence doesn’t have the buildup and tension that Tarantino uses so well. They are also not choreographed on the same level. I never found myself rooting for one character over another. Tarantino is a great storyteller, while his stories can be painfully slow or contain too much depth, they are all good stories. The story in Bad Times at the El Royale was full of very thin layers that didn’t stack well. It wants you to be intrigued by the mysteries and reveals, but I was bored two-thirds of the way into the movie just when I should have been most interested.
With a cast, this good the movie should have been better. I watched this film on an airplane and it mostly kept my attention. Perhaps after Quentin Tarantino stops making films, I will be more open to others trying out his style. Perhaps I would have felt differently about this movie if I had not just seen two Tarantino films so recently. Drew Goddard has written several good films, The Martian and World War Z. He has written a lot of television, Lost, Dare Devil, Alias, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This movie just wasn’t that well-constructed for its 2:21 run time and nested storylines.