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Bad Times at the El Royale — motel-set thriller outstays its welcome

Bad Times at the El Royale — motel-set thriller outstays its welcome

October 11
17:36 2018

Motels. Where would we be without them? They are not like hotels. They have instant life-or-death possibilities. In a hotel you must garage your car, register painstakingly at the desk, pile your luggage into a lift (or find a porter), walk carpeted corridors, tip the putative porter . . . It’s a long time before you can be robbed, murdered or caught up in misadventure.

In a motel — well, look at Bad Times at the El Royale. It lasts 140 minutes, but none of that is spent checking in. Much of it is spent checking out. Bang; slash; shriek; thud; gurgle.

Jon Hamm, Jeff Bridges, and Cynthia Erivo in ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’

Drew Goddard’s film is a 1969-set locked-doors thriller with few locks and the front doors left wide open, often, to the neon-hued night rain. Claustrophobia is induced not by confinement — the garish, kitschy lobby is as big as a football field — but by the mad, intricate, tail-chasing script. The characters, it’s hinted, could be interconnected. Agatha Christie meets Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.

Since there are star names, though — Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth — they must have time to act before deactivation. Result: an ever sprawlier, messier, talkier affair. For motel-flick fans it will do until Halloween. But writer-director Goddard should have remembered that the virtue of such thrillers is economy. This plot could have been put in a Hyatt or Radisson, with upholstered settings to match the overstuffed script.


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