One of my favorite writers currently working is Drew Goddard. Goddard first came to my attention when his name started popping up in the credits for some of the better episodes in seasons 3 and 4 of Lost. He has since written Cloverfield, The Cabin in the Woods, and The Martian. All three movies happen to be some of my favorite genre movies of the past decade. They also mostly succeed off of witty dialogue and unique scenarios. Drew Goddard’s latest movie is Bad Times at the El Royale, which takes witty dialogue and unique scenarios and puts them on steroids. It’s an interesting concoction that has already drawn numerous comparisons to the works of Quentin Tarantino. The comparisons are slightly warranted but the movie doesn’t have any of the self-indulgence that Tarantino’s movies do. Bad Times also doesn’t have the audacious third act that makes the better Tarantino movies really stick out.
Bad Times at the El Royale follows a priest (Jeff Bridges), an aspiring singer (Cynthia Erivo), a salesman (Jon Hamm) and a mysterious woman (Dakota Johnson) as they try to stay the night at a formerly state-of-the-art hotel known as the El Royale. The salesman’s secret connection to the hotel starts a series of events that leads to a night that no one will forget. This is a fun setup that will have you guessing all over the place on where this movie will go next. The first half of the movie really has you believing that this movie will be something special. Besides a top notch performance from Jon Hamm (who really excels with the more over the top work that this movie and his appearances in numerous TV comedies have him doing), this movie also has some of the best editing you will see this year as the movie is presented in a Rashomon-style plot without ever skipping a beat.
As the movie heads towards its second half, though, it becomes clear that the plot is going to become a bit more conventional. The final act is a bit of let down that relies almost entirely on its admittedly talented cast to carry it to the finish line. That being said the tricks that the movie does play with its cast are almost as interesting as the ones it does with building up its plot. On the outset it would appear that Chris Hemsworth’s role in the movie will just be a glorified cameo, but Hemsworth ends up being a charismatic delight in a pivotal third act role. Meanwhile, in a cast filled with superstars and legends, it’s Cynthia Erivo and Lewis Pullman (as a lobby desk worker) who get the most time to play with character development. So even though the movie does falter a bit in its second half there’s still a lot to like.
Bad Times at the El Royale doesn’t stick the landing but you will have trouble finding another movie released this year as unique as this one.