Bad Times at the El Royale indeed.
The bare premise, one of the only threads laid bare in some very cagey promotion, is one of those ideas with the most abounding potential. A hotel, half in California, half in Nevada; different guests, different rules – what goes on one side won’t go on the other.
Sounds great doesn’t it? The problem is the filmmakers do absolutely nothing with it. Nothing. Unless you count the tried bellhop’s (Lewis Pullman) recurring speech about this oddity of an establishment. From there, the filmmakers may as well have set this almost anywhere else.
Squandering both it’s premise and bevy of stars, Dakota Johnson, Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm and Cailee Spaeny (I’m getting to Chris Hemsworth’s chest I mean Chris Hemsworth) even in this 140-minute offering aren’t on screen long enough for any individual to register too greatly. Pullman’s character in particular is treated to a hurried final act flashback to flesh out his character all too late; an issue endemic to a flick which places too must trust in its characters being quirky enough to maintain interest rather than considered or duly detailed.
These glaring drawbacks are made all the worse by the theatrics being rendered as a compilation of character bits (absent anyone or anything to ground the goings-on) that cannot sustain themselves as the same shticks are consistently revisited for instance when sequences are replayed from different perspectives. Jon Hamm is especially short-changed in a role ill-deserving of his comic and dramatic abilities, though the Mad Men star is not nearly so hard done by as Nick Offerman who merited better than the briefest of contributions to this mess.
There is an exception, in the guise of very talented newcomer Cynthia Erivo who proffers the stand-out best scenes in the film with her notable vocal chops. The moments she shares with Bridges’ Priest after he blows in out of nowhere are too more engaging than all else, as are a few precious colourful, bombastic shots; chief among them that of Johnson peering with great surprise into a hitherto hidden room.
And then there’s Hemsworth; front and centre on every piece of promotional material. To elaborate on his role would be to ruin the best surprise Bad Times has going for it as the Marvel star blends his charm and physical presence with a part markedly against type which he no doubt executed with gleeful delight.
It is also one that could likely have proved more interesting if Hemsworth had not been largely relegated to a single act. Those hoping for something as subversive, outlandish, enjoyable or even remotely relatable to Buffy, The Cabin in the Woods and Daredevil veteran Drew Goddard’s earlier triumphs should look elsewhere.
Bad Times at the El Royale is in cinemas now