Stylish, twisty thriller goes for Tarantino, comes up short
Writer-director Drew Goddard, who crafted a house of mirrors horror homage with 2012's "The Cabin in the Woods," turns his eye toward the crime genre with "Bad Times at the El Royale," an undercooked piece of pulp fiction that could use another pass through the oven.
"Bad Times" is set at a kitschy, run down hotel on the California/ Nevada border.
Inside its confines — half its rooms are in California, the other half in Nevada — nobody is who they check in as, and a handful of strangers are exposed to each other's darkest secrets.
Among those strangers: A vacuum salesman (Jon Hamm), a priest (Jeff Bridges), a singer (Cynthia Erivo) and a criminal (Dakota Johnson). Before the night is over, a bag of cash and a mysterious cult leader (Chris Hemsworth) turn up in the lobby, and Goddard goes overboard trying to walk in Quentin Tarantino's shoes.
He employs the use of title cards to indicate different acts in the film, plays back incidents and overlaps them from varying perspectives, and uses a multitude of '60s and '70s folk-rock songs to underscore the film's mysterious, off-kilter mood.
Which is all well and good, but he strings viewers along by stretching bits out to their breaking point — scenes that should wrap in one minute routinely go seven or eight minutes — and he overdoses on style. And the payoff, once it finally arrives (the movie runs a bloated two hours and 20 minutes) isn't worth the buy-in.
Goddard is definitely a skilled storyteller, and he stages several character reveals and moments of jumpy suspense that make "El Royale" far from a washout.
But Tarantino he's not, and there aren't enough good times here to make "El Royale" worth the stay.
'Bad Times at the El Royale'
Rated R for strong violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity
Running time: 142 minutes