BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE – Review by Susan Granger

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This lurid, neo-noir crime-thriller is not my kind of movie but, as a critic, my job is to evaluate how well a filmmaker accomplishes what he/she set out to do, and I suppose writer/director Drew Goddard does. Goddard’s saga begins ominously in 1959 with a bank robber (Nick Offerman) getting a back full of buckshot after burying a sack of cash under the floorboards in a Lake Tahoe hotel room. His assailant is seen in the doorway, backlit, toting a shotgun.

Flash-forward 10 years to the El Royale, a once-famous hotel/casino that straddles the border between California and Nevada. Once a hopping hangout, hosting the Rat Park and other celebrities, it was basically abandoned after its proprietor lost his gambling license.

Among its current guests are the bank robber’s brother, hard-drinking Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges); Motown back-up singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), who never scored as a soloist; frantic, foul-mouth’d Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) and her younger sister Rose (Cailee Spaeny), who has fallen under the spell of bare-chested, charismatic Bill Lee (Chris Hemsworth), a sociopathic cult leader.

Plus there’s Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm), a slick-talking traveling salesman from Biloxi, Mississippi, and guilt-riddled, heroin-addicted Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman), the hotel’s only employee.

They’re seven strangers, pretending to be someone they’re not, each hiding a secret, as we discover over a suspenseful, 12-hour period one night.

Evoking the voyeuristic quality of Goddard’s previous film (“The Cabin in the Woods”), the hotel’s surveillance system includes a dark hallway connecting each of the rooms – with a speaker-box and one-way mirror looking into each unit, and a camera at the end of the corridor – suggesting an unmistakable scent of scandal.

So who killed the bank robber? We never find out.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Bad Times at the El Royale” is a seedy, slogging, self-conscious 6, concluding with Quentin Tarantino-inspired bloodshed and violence.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.