In Drew Goddard I trust — now with reservation. While I can’t hold Bad Times at the El Royale against the rest of his work — Cloverfield, Cabin in the Woods, The Martian, and his TV shows — he sure does seem to need a guiding hand. Regularly working under the tutelage of J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost) and Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel), Bad Times may feature some of the sharp writing we’ve come to love, but it’s an overkill in indulgence winding up as a neo-noir that’s neither as mysterious, nor exciting as it should be.
In 1959, Felix O’Kelly (Nick Offerman) has come to Lake Tahoe’s El Royale to bury a bag of money under the floorboards and is then shot dead. Ten years later, priest Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges) shows up just as backup singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) pulls in for a room of her own.
They soon meet their fellow patrons in the lobby — fast-talking salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) and the mysterious Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson), along with the El Royale’s sole employee, Miles Miller (Lewis “Son of Bill” Pullman). Soon enough, everyone has a story to tell, and a secret to hide, as fate comes calling in the form of Emily’s sister Rose (Cailee Spaeny), and Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth), the leader of the cult Emily stole Rose back from.
Try as Goddard might, he manages to hold your attention for a good hour and a half. Problem is, the film runs 141 minutes. By the time the pieces start coming together you’re already super bored. And there’s still a whole hour to go! The film makes very little sense and the characters Goddard settles on as his protagonists gets in the way of caring about a resolution. Some may say the film is packed with twists and turns, but random events have no consequence, nor further the plot. There’s no rhyme or reason for anything happening at the El Royale.
The film has a fantastic soundtrack packed full of fun late ’60s/early ’70s tunes, and the hotel itself makes for a great set, it’s just too bad you never care what happens to anyone, let alone the script make a lick of sense anyway. Goddard may have been nominated for his fantastic adaptation of The Martian — and he gets far more mileage out of working alongside his better cohorts — so it pains to see him fail so wildly here. Skip the movie and download the soundtrack instead.