*. I think nearly every review of this movie mentioned the influence of Quentin Tarantino in some way. Because it’s pretty hard to miss. The El Royale hotel (really a motel) is just like the staging post in The Hateful Eight. Coincidentally, Tarantino’s next movie would be set in the same time period as this one, and involve Charles Manson in the action, a figure who is introduced indirectly here in the guise of the cult leader Billy Lee. So you can add that to all the more obvious linkages, like the black humour, retro soundtrack, non-linearity, and abrupt punctuations of violence.
*. Sticking with The Hateful Eight for just a moment, another connection I made was with the size of the interiors. Look at how big that room looks in the opening shot. It seems to stretch out forever, three or four times as large as any motel room I’ve ever seen. And when we move to the lobby and see how long it takes Jon Hamm to jog from one part of it to another it’s hard not to be impressed. Apparently they built the El Royale on a giant 60,000-square foot stage and they want you to see all of it. You can believe this is an establishment spanning two states. I felt like I was back in that airplane hangar of a cabin in the mountains.
*. But then we come to what sets Tarantino apart, which is what most of his imitators fail to get. For all their other identifiable qualities, Tarantino’s movies are constructed out of talk. Bad Times at the El Royale isn’t quite so dedicated to the art of conversation, but there is a lot of dialogue. And none of it is any good. It isn’t funny, or witty, or even interesting. It’s just talk.
*. This is why I think the movie feels so long. I won’t call it dull, but it does move at a sedate pace. And within the roomy confines of its 141-minute running time the characters seem lost. The plot wanders back and forth, checking in and out of different narrative “rooms.” And where is it going? Nowhere at all.
*. Any movie that sets itself up as this slow a burn is writing a cheque that its final act has to sign. There had better be some fireworks. This is the main problem I had with the script, as I was relatively interested in finding out what was going on until the end, when I realized that there weren’t going to be any twists or revelations and that I was going to have to sit and watch Chris Hemsworth, all smarm and inguinal ligaments, go on posing for nearly an hour. In my notes on Free Fire, a similarly situated retro-neo-noir (that’s not an oxymoron), I said I thought I would have liked it better with zombies. I also said that I thought this was something I would never say. Well, here I am saying it again.
*. I feel a bit sorry for Hemsworth. What has he to do aside from his sexy dance? He recaptures Rose and finds the money and then . . . ties everybody up and tries to find out who the money belongs to and where it came from. Why? Why does he want to know this? Why doesn’t he just take the money and run? Is no one concerned that someone else may actually show up at the El Royale? This isn’t the log cabin in The Hateful Eight, or the Cabin in the Woods for that matter. Presumably people do drop in and stay on occasion.
*. My point being that none of this part of the movie makes any sense. It’s just there to keep the plot going before everything is resolved in a ridiculous manner with the revelation of Miles’ back story and super powers.
*. Come to think of it, I think I feel sorry for the entire cast. They’re better than this. You can feel them trying to rise above the lousy script and characters who all turn out to be less than they seem. Cynthia Erivo is quite good, but she just turns out to be Jackie Brown. Jeff Bridges has one wrinkle (Alzheimer’s) to his otherwise elder-statesman performance. The biggest shock is Dakota Johnson, an actor I’ve never had occasion to think very much of. She’s actually the best thing in the movie and I enjoyed all of her scenes. Her lines are, like the rest of the film’s dialogue, crap. But she has an expressive elegance in her eyes here that I’ve never seen her projecting before.
*. Maybe it’s a movie undone by its ambitions. Tarantino can go super wide screen and all the rest, but he always knows that he’s just making B-movies. Pulp is his métier. Bad Times at the El Royale should be pulp too, but it’s overwritten, overlong, and overproduced. Sure it looks great, but should it? Shouldn’t it look trashier? Shouldn’t it be trashier? Where the hell are the zombies?