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“Bad Times At The El Royale” is overstuffed yet pulpy fun from Drew Goddard

No good film is too long and no bad film is too short. That’s an old saying that does ring true most of the time. That being said, occasionally there are exceptions to the rule. This week, there’s a movie opening that threatens to be that exception. Bad Times at the El Royale is a fun flick, but it’s also way too long. The good outweighs the bad, but with a shaved down running time, this could have been a total blast. Credit where it’s due for getting something unique like this made, so kudos to Drew Goddard, but as much of a fan of his previous work as I am, I couldn’t help wishing that this one had been trimmed down, at least a bit.

The film is a mystery/thriller set at the run down El Royale hotel in Lake Tahoe. During one long night, seven strangers will arrive, some will never leave, and all will have a chance at one form or another of redemption. After a mysterious opening involving Nick Offerman, we meet them. They include Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm), Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), and Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson). They all have arrived for different reasons, each with secrets. Before long, death, destruction, and misunderstandings ensue, and that’s all before Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) arrives on the scene. Goddard writes and directs (as well as co-produces), with the rest of the large cast including Xavier Dolan, Lewis Pullman, Cailee Spaeny, and more. Michael Giacchino provides another memorable score, while strong cinematography comes by way of Seamus McGarvey. Everyone more than pulls their weight, even though the prolonged running time does start to become an issue in the third act.

This movie is heavily stylized and often sleazy fun, but it starts to wear on you. Not enough to turn you off to it, but enough to dull some of its effectiveness. You feel the 141 minute run time. Frankly, this flick should have been under two hours long. With endless flashbacks, there’s frequent stops in the film’s momentum. It’s to the credit of Goddard and the cast that they still make it work. It’s an undeniably overstuffed experience, but if you’re enjoying the experience, it should still do it for you. Truthfully, if you like Pulp Fiction, this should remind you of that in some positive ways.

Bad Times at the El Royale isn’t on the level of The Cabin in the Woods or The Martian (which he only wrote) for Goddard, but it is further evidence that the filmmaker has a unique cinematic voice. It’s a voice we should be hearing and seeing a lot more of going forward. He can be an A-list writer/director, just one with some fun quirks. Again, had this movie been shorter, he’d have had another indisputable success on his record. This is more of a mixed bag, but it’s still worthy of a recommendation. This review is just less of a rave than he normally gets from yours truly.

In just a few days time, audiences, and especially fans of Goddard (not to mention those who like well done homages to Quentin Tarantino) can see something rather unique when Bad Times at the El Royale opens. It’s arguably 30 minutes too long, but when it’s on, it’s really on. Goddard is having a wicked bit of fun, and even if he overstuffs his work, that stuffing is still rather tasty. Provided you keep this in mind, you should be able to more than enjoy yourselves. It’s a good film, just one with a noticeable flaw. Use the bathroom before sitting down and you should be fine…

Be sure to check out Bad Times at the El Royale, in theaters everywhere this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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