‘Bad Times At The El Royale’

Despite Mindless Ahistorical Hipster Violence, The Dude Abides

I saw the Bad Times At The El Royale movie.  A group of characters from an advanced screenwriting seminar get together at the kind of motel that only exists in the cinema. Incidence and gore ensue. Then we have flashbacks. Points of view switch around so it takes about two hours until we figure out what’s actually happening. Eventually, everything goes to shit. It’s basically The Hateful Eight, but set in the late 1960s.

Director and screenwriter Drew Goddard, born in 1975, has clearly seen many documentaries and read books about the era. Few aspects of the time go untouched. We get Vietnam, a little pre-Watergate paranoia, a Manson Family-like cult, and plenty of cool music. There are vintage cars, probably lifted from Jay Leno’s garage, or at least a garage in Jay Leno’s neighborhood. Dakota Johnson wears the hell out of a fringe jacket. But none of it really matters. It’s all just pegs on which Goddard can hang sequence after sequence of mindless ahistorical hipster violence. It’s a ripoff of a ripoff, a pastel noir, a third-tier Coen Brothers movie without the puns.


BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Drew Goddard
Written by: Drew Goddard

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, Jon Hamm

Running time: 155 min.


 

That said, Goddard sure knows how to build tension in a scene, even if there are too many of them. Chris Hemsworth, as the villain, provides plenty of whacking material for the ladies. Johnson smolders as the femme fatale. Previously unheard-from actors like Cynthia Erivo (destined for stardom), Lewis Pullman, and Cailee Spaeny get a ton of screen time, and really make it count. But at the top of the pyramid sits Jeff Bridges, who gives a hell of a late-career performance. This is no cameo role. He’s the lead character, and he takes a ridiculous part and just fills it up with pathos and tough-guy nuance. One of the great all-time movie stars strikes again.

Personal hero Jon Hamm also appears, and he’s actually just OK. But I still want to see him play Batman.

I saw this film at The Alamo Drafthouse near my home, really the only place to see movies. They gave out these awesome keychains, because the super-hip conceit of the El Royale is that it sits on the border of California and Nevada.

Always happy to get a cool souvenir.

This concludes my review of The Bad Times At The El Royale movie.

Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of ten semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. He's written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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