You don’t always need to fully understand the premise of a mystery thriller with an all-star cast; sometimes you just have to have fun watching their characters go through with the plot, until it spins out of control. “Bad Times at the El Royale,” the latest movie from writer/director Drew Goddard (best known for directing “The Cabin in the Woods” and writing the screenplay for “The Martian”), is that kind of movie; and the movie presents itself in various chapters with different points of view, so the plot would even out.
The movie takes place at the El Royale hotel between California and Nevada, and that’s why its divided by two suites: The California Suite and the Nevada Suite. The only differences are the price range, and you can’t drink in the Nevada Suite. This place looks stylish with its jukeboxes, full service bar, casino, and chandeliers. But it looks even better when it turns out to be a “Pervert Hotel,” with two way mirrors, microphones, and cameras in the rooms. This is where things get real fun.
The a-list cast includes Jeff Bridges as a bank robber, fresh out of the joint, and posing as priest in order to look for stolen money; Jon Hamm as an agent posing as a vacuum cleaner salesman, in order to infiltrate the hotel; Cynthia Erivo as a struggling singer named Darlene Sweet (probably named after Darlene Love); Lewis Pullman (“Battle of the Sexes”) as the hotel concierge/housekeeper/acting manager, who wishes to repent his sins to the “priest;”Dakota Johnson as a Southern gangster and Cailee Spaeny (fresh from “Pacific Rim: Uprising”) as her cult following sis; and Chris Hemsworth as a cult leader, whom the little sis loves.
It took a while for me to grasp the movie’s concept, but once you see its chapters, you’ll get the big picture. And looking at “Bad Times at the El Royale,” this does things I wish “Hotel Artemis” did better. It has actors and characters worth liking; a convoluted plot which becomes flexible; gorgeous 1960s sets (even some from the ’50s), and classic music (with hits from Frankie Valli, Four Tops, Deep Purple, and even Erivo’s own cover versions).
Bridges is drawn with truth as his character is revealed to have a severe memory problem; Erivo is delightful as the young singer, who’s actually smarter than some people think she is; Pullman is emotional as the young concierge struggling to overcome his dark past; Hamm adds a nice cameo as the agent and so-called vacuum cleaner salesman; and Hemsworth is fun as the cult leader, who gives the guest a gripping confrontation towards the end. Swell cast.
I like looking at these kind of hotel movies, and at times, I wish they’re writing was as amazing. But somehow, underneath the big plot, “Bad Times at the El Royale” is worth checking in to.