Hot Take: Bad Times at the El Royale

Hot Take: It’s alright… if you’re looking for a Quentin Tarantino cover band.

There was a time when Quentin Tarantino first showed up that everyone thought it would be cool to cop his style. It’s less frequent these days but rarely has it been more obvious than with Bad Times at the El Royale, the latest from Drew Goddard. With a robust 141 minutes of content, the ensemble cast featuring Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Lewis Pullman, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, Cailee Spaeny and Jon Hamm has so many Tarantino-esque moments that harken back to his most recent work in The Hateful Eight but also Four Rooms, Pulp Fiction and others. Essentially, for this viewer, I spent too much time comparing Goddard’s work to Tarantino’s and not enough enjoying what happened to be unfolding on screen. For some, it might not be that big of a deal but it lost something and felt more imitation than homage.

In 1959, money is buried in a room at the El Royale. The man is shot and killed and his murderer cannot locate the dough. Flash forward ten years and Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is seen outside of the hotel by Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) as she prepares to check in to the El Royale on her way to perform in Reno. The two exchange pleasantries and both enter the hotel. Inside is vacuum cleaner salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm), another guest of the El Royale waiting on the concierge to appear. Eventually, the trio meets Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman), El Royale’s only employee and they begin to check in. While checking in, hippy Emily Summerspring shows up (Dakota Johnson) and all four parties eventually check in to the unique hotel built on the California/Nevada border. It turns out all of the guests of the El Royale as well as its only employee are harboring secrets as well as the hotel itself which has a few secrets of its own.

Laced with an excellent 60s soundtrack (soundtracks are a hallmark of a Tarantino film so why wouldn’t the knock-off do the same?), the ensemble cast’s various storylines weave in and out of each other (another Tarantino trait) while the timeline bounces ┬áback and forth (another one) and no one ever steps into the spotlight as the star yet all the characters, at times, feel to be the central focus of the story (and another). To be fair, Goddard’s effort is a valiant one and it’s not so much the Tarantino-esque feeling but the overstuffed plot that drags the film down to mediocrity. To be fair, any film over 2 hours struggles to hold my attention unless it’s special and Bad Times at the El Royale just isn’t.

It’s easy to see why many are lauding Bad Times at the El Royale. There’s enough here to love part of the film and forgive the rest. Personally, Erivo’s Darlene Sweet was a character I enjoyed completely and the overall result would have been more satisfying had we spent less time with everyone else. However, you might feel the same about someone else amongst the cast. That’s a problem, though, for the film itself since the sum should never be less than its parts. For Goddard’s film, the premise is there, the characters are interesting enough but there’s something about the total package that leaves something to be desired.

Why Watch?

You’d argue that Brit Floyd is as good as Pink Floyd.

Why Skip?

You’ve seen one Tarantino knock-off, you’ve seen them all.