Bad Times at the El Royale: Emphasis on "Bad Times"
Usually in my reviews I try to dance around mentioning specific plot points in the movie. However, in this one, I’m just coming out and spoiling a lot that happens because otherwise my review will make no sense (much like this movie). If you actually want to see this film, read the “Too Long, Didn’t Read” section and then go to the “Oscar Watch” section instead of reading the review. Those sections will take like 30 seconds tops, I promise.
Alright, onto the Review:
First, we have Jeff Bridges who plays a bank robber with memory loss problems who pretends to be a priest . . . but apparently . . . actually is . . . a priest (this character just confused the living daylights out of me). Next we have a bland, though admittedly above-average singer: Cynthia Erivo (she was amazing in The Color Purple on Broadway . . . not here though). Then there’s Chris Hemsworth as a shirtless hippie who runs a cult and falls in love with a psychotic 12-year-old. There’s also [insert annoyed sigh] Dakota Johnson, who I’d really prefer to just never watch on screen . . . ever. Lewis Pullman is apparently a bellboy who lives in the closet of the El Royale hotel only to drop one of the most idiotic plot bombshells on us 90% of the way through the movie and also Jon Hamm is here too.
Just having to relive this list of garbage characters was painful, but they also all played integral roles to Drew Goddard’s newest “film”, “Bad Times at the El Royale” (or “Bad Times” for short). The film focused on seven characters checking into a sketch-fest hotel and doing some shady stuff. If seven characters wasn’t already enough to focus on, the movie also tossed in approximately 850 other muddled elements to this plot.
Before I start going off on this movie (yeah—I’ve not started yet), I do want to acknowledge a few things “Bad Times” did right. For starters, the cinematography was slightly above average. It captured the characters’ emotions and actions well while also giving you a good sense of the scenery. The El Royale hotel itself intrigued me being on the border of the states, but the movie did virtually nothing with this plot point. Whatever, I guess. The retro songs throughout the movie were fun too.
One scene stuck out to me that I particularly enjoyed. While the wild bank robber was trying to retrieve his buried, stolen money from the singer’s room, she distracted any potential security looking into the room by belting one of my favorite songs from childhood (I’ll leave the song a surprise for when you catch this on Netflix someday). She nailed her rendition, and it added some creative tension to the money retrieval that I enjoyed.
But much like the rest of the movie, they somehow ruined that too. I tried to find the song she sang, and IT WASN’T EVEN ON THEIR OFFICIAL SOUNDTRACK. C’mon music people, didn’t you get the ridiculous lectures in school about providing bibliographies for your work? My high school English teachers would be ashamed of you all right now.
ALRIGHT LET’S TEAR IT APART
Sure. “Bad Times” started off a little intriguing; slow—but a little intriguing. But, then . . . the movie kept going. We learned about the characters via flashbacks, and with each passing minute it became . . . weirdly . . . both duller, and more ridiculous.
The best way to summarize the ridiculousness of the plot and character development of “Bad Times” is through this “Family Guy” scene. More specifically, the part where Peter goes “I wish it were a joke. But these things happen. You know, you go for a walk in the park one day and wheel chair ninjas and Nazis and pots-and-pans robots show up to kill you and dinosaurs show up to eat the remains. You’ve seen the news.”
Except “Family Guy” was just joking. “Bad Times” actually thought it would be a good idea to incorporate roughly fifteen different crazy development paths and that the viewers would follow it all perfectly. I was half-expecting Rick Astley to roll into the hotel wearing a pink tuxedo alongside the Energizer bunny and perform “Never Gonna Give You Up” in an attempt to win back the psychotic 12-year-old from the shirtless hippie. I know. F#$@ING WEIRD MOVIE. Anyway, at the very least, if you were going to make the characters’ backstories nonsensical, could you have thrown in some wheelchair ninjas? That would still seem more interesting and plausible than a guy who robbed a bank, sent his accomplice to a sketchy hotel to bury the stolen money in a hardwood floor, went to prison for 15 years, had memory problems, rolled into the hotel pretending to be a priest because it was “less suspicious”, acted like a total creep for half the movie, forgot half his life and his name, then actually it turned out he was a priest after all because LOL, who cares.
Note to the Director: you are NOT Quentin Tarantino. He used flashbacks a lot too. However, his movies ALWAYS came together in a coherent way at the end. Your attempted impersonation of him had waaaaaay too many plotlines, characters and too few real connections between all of them. It felt like I was watching a movie made by a teen tripping on acid for the first time.
I do not have the emotional energy to wade through the entirety of this movie. It had ineffective organization, the random plot points that not only detracted from the action of the film, but made you like the characters even less. Once you thought they gained momentum, they would flashback to something crazy that barely managed to pieced stuff together—if at all. There were excessive , unnecessary cutaways just for sake of having them that also made little sense.
Case in point: the absolute worst was the character twist with the hotel bellboy. The whole last scene they attempted to build all kinds of tension, then a gun falls on the floor, and the singer yelled “PICK UP THE GUN.” Then, after spending the whole movie not knowing anything about the guy, other than the fact that he lived in a hotel closet and that he saw outright horrific things working there, he revealed OUT OF NOWHERE that he served in Vietnam and had 123 confirmed kills. Then they decided that now OF ALL TIMES would be perfect to have a slow flashback of his time in ‘Nam. NONE of it was interesting. NONE of it helped the plot. It killed the little momentum the film gained in making an intense end scene. All of the sudden after the silly flashback, he overcame his fear, turned into coked-out Rambo and went beast mode on everyone.
WHY IS THIS GUY WORKING AT A HOTEL???!!! WHO DID THE JOB INTERVIEW FOR THIS GUY???!!! We barely even know the underlying purpose of the hotel. They danced around it but never confronted it head on. The only two things I genuinely wish they explained with some kind of small backstory, they never explained. GAH. I can think of at least fifty better career paths for this character with those marksmanship skills that do not involve living in a hotel closet and spying on people doing awful things. These include, but are not limited to:
Stormtrooper Shooting Instructor
Olympic Skeet Shooter
Secret Service Agent
A Texas Ranger
Professional Lee Harvey Oswald Impersonator
Paintball Assassin (92.7 percent sure this is a real job and not some casual reference to the greatest show of all time)
Starring in Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper”
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Also, for those who have seen this movie, can we just acknowledge the fact that the shirtless hippie character was in love with a psychotic 12-year-old and NOBODY mentioned that this was an insanely messed up dynamic? They all just went along with it no questions asked. I shouldn’t need to say that Pedophilia and adultery are bad, but here we are. They are bad. Even if for some reason you liked this film, can we at least agree on this point?
All in all, this movie was an incoherent mess. Its bad times at the box office also partially reflect that. However, in times like these, I need to be humbled and reminded of the words of fictional food critic Anton Ego from “Ratatouille” (seriously, WATCH THIS MOVIE if you haven’t):
“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics MUST face… Is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”
As simple as it is to bash on stuff, I acknowledge the fact that I will probably never make a movie in my life. All of these people in “Bad Times” put themselves out there in a big way that I could only dream of. So hey, here’s to all of you participating in this movie and living the American dream:
Now, please excuse me as I continue to make ridiculously snarky comments about this film in the “Oscar Watch” section.
Let’s make this section fun. If this film gets ANY nominations whatsoever, I will donate $3500 to Vermin Supreme’s 2020 campaign for President. There is a greater chance of Jesus Christ getting reincarnated, coming back to earth and personally condemning director Drew Goddard for making this film than there is of “Bad Times” winning ANY Oscar this year. But, if that somehow does happen, I will quit my day job on the spot, enlist in the US military, become a sniper, get 123 confirmed kills, retire, then go work as the campaign manager for Vermin Supreme’s inevitable 2024 Presidential run. That’s how confident I am that “Bad Times” is not going to win anything at the 2019 Academy Awards.*
*The guys at our See id. podcast assure me this is not binding. Please God don’t be binding.