You can’t help but be surprised by the lack of marketing behind this film. Outside of the giant standee, you see outside of the theater, you really haven’t heard much about Bad Times at the El Royale. I know the film is essentially about a big mystery, but that doesn’t mean the film itself should be. It used to be if you had an ensemble cast, you should expect high-quality entertainment. Nowadays it seems like you are gambling on quality so let’s see if we hit red or black on this film.
Set in 1969, Bad Times at the El Royale is about a novelty hotel on the state line of California and Nevada. Years ago, a bank robber hid thousands of dollars in cash in one of the rooms before being murdered. 10 years later, a group of mysterious people arrive with some of them looking to cash in on the treasure. A priest, a singer, a hippie, a vacuüm salesman, and a suspicious hotel manager are put in the same place at the same time. However, you quickly realize that everybody has something to hide and some of their secrets put everyone at the hotel in danger.
Bad Times at the El Royale fancies itself as a modern take of a classic Tarantino film, the problem is the story isn’t as compelling and the dialogue isn’t as engaging. The setup of the premise is solid enough and it actually sets a pretty good tone going forward. The story is told in fractured flashbacks giving you small details about the characters background before the pieces are put together for a larger picture. In a story about secrets, our characters come to find out the hotel itself as a laundry list of secrets as well.
As good as the setup is, the film begins to unravel once we begin to learn the truth. Certain characters are not given enough time to really flesh out who they are which is not good given the film drags on at least 25 minutes longer than it needs to. Most of that time is spent highlighting Broadway star Cynthia Erivo, who does a decent job, but the film feels like it comes to a screeching halt because her singing barely advances the story. Also, Erivo character of Darlene is the only character not written to have a shady past or any sense of redemption which limits any drama with her character. You can’t really explain too much without giving away secrets, but I had a big problem with a couple of major plot points that were seemingly left unanswered at the end which is unacceptable for a film reaching 140 minutes.
Bad Times at the El Royale is essentially an incomplete roller coaster. Fun in the beginning, but disappointing in the end. Good enough to recommend during a crowded box office weekend, but not polished enough to be something truly memorable.