Movie Review: Bad Times at the El Royale

It’s often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that’s the case, then one has to wonder if Tarantino is flattered by the film, BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE. This neo-noir film, which might best be dubbed “The Hateful Seven”, is very much in the style of Tarantino’s work but it doesn’t come close to matching the director’s flair for either story-telling or camerawork.

Set around 1969, seven strangers come together at a nearly-deserted hotel that straddles the California-Nevada state line. First to arrive is Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges, HELL OR HIGH WATER), soon followed by lounge singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo, WIDOWS) and vacuum salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm, BABY DRIVER; ABSOLUTE FABULOUS: THE MOVIE). The hotel’s sole employee, Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman, LEAN ON PETE) checks them all in and then, just as the weather start to turn ugly, icy Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson; FIFTY SHADES trilogy) arrives with a woman (Cailee Spaeny, soon to be seen in ON THE BASIS OF SEX) she may have kidnapped. Before long, a charismatic cult leader named Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR; THOR: RAGNAROK; GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)) arrives to get the woman that Emily is holding. That’s when all hell breaks loose.

Released in the US back in October, industry pundits were quick to call this film a box office bomb even though both critics and audiences have given the film generally positive reviews. They appear to be right as the film has yet to earn back its relatively small production budget of US$32 million. The film failed to gain traction with audiences as it was up against VENOM and A STAR IS BORN. Now that it has come to Hong Kong, it faces significantly less formidable competition at the box office but only for one week as both GREEN BOOK and CREED II will open here then. In other words, if you want to see it on the big screen, you won’t have much of an opportunity to do so.

Like THE HATEFUL EIGHT, BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE features plenty of intrigue and dark secrets that slowly get revealed through flashbacks all set to a wicked soundtrack. If you haven’t already figured it out from the trailer, no one is as they seem. This kind of story-telling should be right in the zone for writer-director Drew Goddard, who has an extensive resume writing and/or producing such TV hits as BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL, ALIAS and LOST. He also wrote the screenplay for THE MARTIAN, for which he was nominated an Academy Award. Unfortunately, this film won’t get you saying “Whoa! I didn’t see that coming!” which many of us said many times while watching Goddard’s TV shows. BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE is not predictable but it’s not going to rock your world with excitement either. In the end, sadly, it’s just an unmemorable Tarantino knock-off.

You don’t need to see BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE at the cinema. Instead, catch it on an airplane or on your streaming service at home. Turn up the sound though, because the soundtrack is really that good.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Thursday, January 3rd at 8:30 am HK time!

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