Big-name actors make Goddard’s forgettable thriller fun

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Bad Times At The El Royale
Opens Friday 12

3 out of 5

Drew Goddard knows his way around a sprawling narrative. Goddard worked on the TV shows Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel and Lost, and on the big screen he deconstructed the horror genre in The Cabin in the Woods and gave us a new perspective on giant monsters in Cloverfield.

He also wrote the screenplay for The Martian, which got him an Oscar nomination. So he knows what he’s doing.

That’s why it’s too bad Bad Times At The El Royale isn’t a better movie.

Goddard’s new film has nothing to do with supernatural forces — just straight-up greed and malice. So: the El Royale is a rundown motel that’s years if not decades past its prime. Its defining characteristic is existing on the border between Nevada and California. The place mostly gets travelers desperate for sleep after hours on the road and criminals trying to keep a low profile.

One unusually busy morning, a priest (Jeff Bridges), a backup singer (Cynthia Erivo), a mysterious loner (Dakota Johnson) and a vacuum salesman (John Hamm) walk into the hotel. None of them is who they say they are, but they’re destined to get in each other’s way. And when that happens, all hell breaks loose.

To say Bad Times At The El Royale owes a lot to Pulp Fiction would be an understatement. The film is divided into storylines that come together in an epic final act. Unfortunately, Goddard’s skill at structure doesn’t hide the fact his stories are rather simplistic. He’s no Quentin Tarantino, and watching this movie was a bit like watching a hopeless nerd desperately trying to be cool.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see Bad Times at the El Royale. The actors attack the pulpy material with gusto. Chris Hemsworth’s performance as a Charles Manson-like figure is a bit much, but for the most part you’ll probably have a good time at Goddard’s hotel.

Just don’t expect an experience that’ll stick with you after you check out.