Mario’s Movies: Good Times at the El Royale

By Mario Ricciardi

So, the movie is actually called “Bad Times at the El Royale,” but I really enjoyed my time spent watching it, so yeah. I know, the headline is predictable and cliché, but it basically wrote itself. “El Royale” consists of an alluring cast, neon-noir mysteries, a killer soundtrack and edge of your seat suspense.

It’s a fun ride from the very start. It immediately puts its audience in the dark, slowly revealing itself as the film grooves along. Following the stories of a priest, a soul singer, a traveling salesman, a cult murderer, her sister, the cult leader and a strange manager, “El Royale” is colorful to say the least. This totals seven leads and claiming that any one of these characters has a secret would be an understatement.

As the film navigates through the intertwining chapters of each character’s story, the audience must discern who to root for. Much about this film is unique, but the key distinction is its ability to put the audience in each individual character’s shoes. It leaves one wondering what they would do in the situation and how. These discernments are further complicated by the fact that everyone in this film is bad and very few are good. (I know, a little confusing).

For me, the biggest setback of the film is the use of its star-studded cast. “El Royale” stars Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth and Lewis Pullman, along with a few neat cameos along the way. The cast, combined with the plot’s willingness to kill off anyone, adds to the pulp but ultimately takes away from the wonderfully vivid miscellany of characters. Watching Jeff Bridges in a movie is always great — the film comes across as a bit too showy of its cast.

By the way, about that plot. The El Royale is the casino/motel/decaying ruin of 1950’s Americana. Loosely based on Frank Sinatra’s Cal Neva Resort, the El Royale sits on the border of Nevada and California. As each character arrives at the motel, the plot slowly unfolds from a series of strange circumstances to elaborately hectic suspense involving murder, bank robberies, JFK, hopes, dreams and cherry pie.

After the suspense relieves and the mysteries allowed to be resolved do so, “Bad Times at the El Royale” is a clever studio film. Unfortunately, this is a clever studio film that will fade away with time, when it could have potentially lived on as a cult classic.

The onscreen geography of the film is too sterile for its messy characters and the story doesn’t dive far enough into the weirdness of the material begging to be explored. It’s a really entertaining thriller, with some interesting subtext, and the juggling of the many lives is really well done but for as complex as the film is it stops short.

“Bad Times at the El Royale” reaches far, but unfortunately falls just on the good side of greatness. I really want to give it 4 penguins, but:

??? (3/5 Penguins)