BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE
(director/writer: Drew Goddard; cinematographer: Seamus McGarvey; editor: Lisa Lassek; music: Michael Giacchino; cast: Jeff Bridges (Father Daniel Flynn/Dick O’Kelly), Cynthia Erivo (Darlene Sweet), Dakota Johnson (Emily Summerspring), Jon Hamm (Laramie Seymour Sullivan/Dwight Broadbeck), Cailee Spaeny (Rosie Summerspring), Lewis Pullman (Miles Miller), Chris Hemsworth (Billy Lee), Nick Offerman (Felix O’Kelly); Runtime: 141; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jeremy Latcham, Drew Goddard; 20th Century Fox; 2018)
“Overlong and disappointing depraved retro.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Clever filmmaker, not so clever with this messy script, Drew Goddard (“The Sinister Six”/”The Cabin in the Woods”), sets his overlong and disappointing depraved retro in 1969, in a glitzy motel once frequented by the Hollywood swells, high-roller gangsters and big-shot politicians. It had a sordid rep for illicit sex and gangster activity but is now seeing bad times because it lost its gambling license. The motel, called the El Royale, is located between the borders of two states, Nevada and California. The “state line” goes through the parking lot and across the lobby, as the gaming tables are placed in Nevada’s Lake Tahoe side (where gambling is legal). The film engages in an unanswerable and contrived philosophical debate over questions of right and wrong. It uses the motel TV to cover that period’s paranoid politics of the Vietnam War era and the Manson-like brutal crimes sweeping the country by showing real newscasts. After the dark secrets are uncovered from all the questionable hotel guests, we are confronted by an amoral and unsatisfying conclusion. The hotel setting is meant to be a metaphor for America, once filled with hope but now viewed as hopeless. In this heavy concept film, the concepts get shot down one at a time until it all seems like we’re playing with a losing hand in poker. In the prologue, Felix O’Kelly (Nick Offerman) is seen killing someone and burying something in the floorboards of one room. Some ten years later, seven strangers show up one night in the empty El Royale. They are greeted by the meek but emotionally troubled young desk clerk Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman). All persons have secrets and reasons for coming here, which are slowly revealed through all the tiresome flashbacks. The seven are: an overbearing loudmouth traveling hospitality salesman, Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm); a kind but daffy and boozy elderly priest, Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges); a world-weary, struggling black lounge singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo, Tony winner for The Color Purple); a rifle-bearing feisty hippy named Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson); Rosie Summerspring (Cailee Spaeny), Emily’s younger sister she kidnapped; and much later arriving a charismatic, womanizing, manipulative and sadistic pistol-packing cult leader named Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth). The suspicious hotel has secret corridors, one-way mirrors, and hidden under the floorboards a bag of stolen loot. It also has guests who are not telling the truth about why they are there and what they are after. Violence takes over when its ideas seem lost in a chaotic script. It leads to a pay off that’s poorly constructed and a narrative that should have been better crafted (there’s a salvageable film to be mined by the right director). When the film finally crashes from never finding its right tone, it becomes hard to sit through. But the ’60s throwback music with Motown songs like “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “This Old Heart of Mine,” wonderfully sung by Erivo, and also the pleasing oldies from Deep Purple’s “Hush” and The Box Top’s “The Letter, ” allow for the music at least to keep me from splitting before the end.
REVIEWED ON 10/13/2018 GRADE: C-