Stop me if you heard this one before but a vacuum salesman, a priest, a female criminal, and a singer walk into a remote hotel. Ok, so it’s not exactly a joke but more how we meet the major players in ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’. The opening scenes are fantastic. After meeting Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) in the parking lot, Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges) helps her into the lobby of the El Royale, a hotel where one half of the property is in California and the other in Nevada. Here we meet Seymour “Laramie” Sullivan (Jon Hamm), a vacuum salesman, who had me laughing every time he delivered a line. Finally, in walks Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson), an angry and mysterious woman who signs the hotel register as “F**kYou”.
(This section may contain minor spoilers)There isn’t much out of the ordinary for these four characters however they all have their secrets. Some are mildly embarrassing to just downright deadly. Once they are given their rooms the movie goes into a “Pulp Fiction” time jump storytelling sequence. We start with Seymour Sullivan in the story “ROOM ONE” where we see him find in his room taking things apart removing what looks like listening devices from items all over the room. We then jump to the next sequence “ROOM FOUR” where we see Darlene putting up padding on the walls so she can practice her singing, and find out she’s a struggling singer who’s taking her last shot at being an entertainer. Father Flynn is a criminal who is looking for something he knows is hidden somewhere in the hotel and Emily has just taken her sister, Rose, away from the cult she had been in for some time.
The other people involved in this story are a cult leader, Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) and the El Royale concierge Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman), who turned out to be one of the most surprising characters in the whole movie. As I mentioned before this movie had a strong Pulp Fiction feel and style to it. I wouldn’t be shocked if writer/director Drew Goddard came forward and said that the movie was an homage to Tarantino’s work. I did like that they let you know when there was going to be a time shift or change in the story so I’m not trying to figure out what fits where in the “big picture”. The biggest surprise for me was that I didn’t hate Dakota Johnson, I mean she was still bland and almost soulless thought the whole thing like every character she plays, but in this one, she was supposed to be that way.
The standout characters to me were Jon Hamm, Jeff Bridges, and Lewis Pullman. Although I never watched Mad Men I dig Jon Hamm from other things I’ve seen him in, the guy is just funny. When we meet him in the hotel lobby it’s no different, every time he spoke the theater erupted in laughter. As for Jeff Bridges, his story was actually kind of sad, but I’m not going to go into any details on this, you’ll just have to see it. Just know that the acting by these two men was top notch as expected from them. Lewis Pullman was the most surprising of the whole bunch, his moment of redemption to gain forgiveness for past evils propels him from a nobody in the movie to being a hero in the snap of your fingers.
What I didn’t like. For a movie that is almost two and a half hours long they still manage to have some plot holes or unanswered questions. Now the things I’m talking about aren’t major issues, but they would help flesh out the hotel history a bit or the story involving the character Father Flynn. Also, we have a character that goes to the hotel but ends up involving everyone there in an OK Corral showdown that seems to be stuck in there just for “blood and guts” sake. The scene is enjoyable just seems a bit forced in there. Besides these small storytelling/dialogue issues I really enjoyed the movie a lot. If you liked the Pulp Fiction style of storytelling this movie should fit the bill.