HomeMoviesReview: Bad Times at the El Royale is Fun but Forgettable

Review: Bad Times at the El Royale is Fun but Forgettable

Chris Hemsworth Bad Times at the El Royal
Photo Credit: Kimberley French.

Bad Times at the El Royale Plot Summary:

A priest (Jeff Bridges), a singer (Cynthia Erivo), a vacuum salesman (Jon Hamm), and a young woman (Dakota Johnson) all arrive at a rundown hotel one night. As their pasts catch up with them and secrets pile up, everything builds to one explosive confrontation.

Truth be told, less than a day after seeing Bad Times at the El Royale, it’s a little difficult to remember details about the movie. This isn’t because it’s a bad movie, or even a particularly boring one. Far from it, in fact. A largely well-structured mystery, a clear and cohesive time-jumping narrative, with plenty of entertaining set pieces make it a pretty fun watch. But despite the movie’s best efforts, it’s not really much else. Movies don’t have to be more than that, but when there’s nothing to hang your hat on besides the momentary pleasure of watching, it’s hard to leave much of an impression.

The movie is not without its charms, of course.

For one thing, the cast is stacked with phenomenal talent. Jeff Bridges and Jon Hamm will likely dominate the conversation, Bridges is charming as a befuddled priest while Hamm shows off both his comedic and dramatic chops as a gregarious, but obnoxious salesman.

But it’s newcomer Cynthia Erivo with the most impressive job, conveying the tenacity and strength of will that has brought her character this far in life beneath a fragile and nervous surface. And Lewis Pullman is fun as the hotel’s ridiculously meek sole employee. There’s not a bad performance in the bunch, which helps the movie’s two hours float amiably by.

In that regard, the movie is also helped tremendously by fairly sharp structuring of a pretty complex narrative. At times it feels like nothing more than a classic murder mystery, as our understanding of the situation slowly builds with each new piece of information. It achieves this through a clever bit of construction, jumping between the characters in the present day and short vignettes explaining their backstories. It could easily fall apart into pure confusion with less deft writing or sloppy editing, but the movie manages to make everything perfectly clear and easy to follow. This kind of narrative cohesion is rare to find, and a genuine joy to see.

It is not a construction without flaws, however. Despite unfolding its mystery in an intriguing way, the movie keeps its cards a little too close to the chest at first. We aren’t really let inside any of the character’s heads for a while, so for a long time we don’t have a rooting interest to keep us engaged in the story. Information is revealed, but there’s little context for it so it’s not entirely clear what it means or why you should care. This problem fades over time, thankfully, only for a new one to emerge towards the end.

The confrontation that ends the movie, complete with surprise celebrity cameo, simply goes on for far too long. Dramatic conversations with charismatic villains are fun, but this one wears out its welcome. It’s a shame, because there are great moments in there, but the finale is in desperate need of an editor to trim the fat and make it flow as well as the rest of the movie.

Ultimately though, the biggest problem is that there’s not much going on besides fun performances and well-structured narrative. There are gestures towards deeper complexities in the narrative – Lewis Pullman’s desperate need for absolution, Cynthia Erivo’s struggle for success as a black woman – but these elements are never given the attention and space they need to really land. The few moments they do have end up falling far short of the emotional impact they’re clearly meant to have. What you’re left with, then, is a fun but insubstantial time that fades not long after viewing. That isn’t bad, and if the movie seemed interesting to you it’s even worth seeing. But it’s nothing that could be called great, or even aiming for greatness. That can’t help but be a little disappointing.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Chris Diggins
Chris Digginshttps://alittleperspective.substack.com
"Lord" Chris Diggins, "Grand Prognosticator of ThePopBreak.com" is a staff writer and incorrigible layabout for The Pop Break. He usually reviews TV and movies, although he sometimes writes ludicrously long pieces of critical analysis and badgers the editors to publish it. He cannot be stopped.


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