My Review of ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ (2018)

You know those movies where a bunch of strangers get together and get into hilarious mischief? This isn’t one of them.

Not that you’d expect a film with this title to be anything other than what it is-a kind of Tarantino/Lynch-influenced neo-noir thriller presented from multiple viewpoints and with flashbacks galore.

This image released by 20th Century Fox shows Jeff Bridges, left, and Cynthia Erivo in a scene from “Bad Times at the El Royal.” (Kimberley French/20th Century Fox via AP)

The ensemble of actors starts (after a brief prologue/flashback) with the appearance of a Catholic priest, Daniel Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges) and Darlene Sweet, a struggling soul singer (played by Cynthia Erivo), who meet in the parking lot of the titular hotel, a place that straddles the state line between California and Nevada. Can you imagine the sales tax implications? Now, there’s a bookkeeper’s nightmare.

Via Variety

Then Daniel and Darlene meet the drawling vacuum cleaner salesman (played by Jon Hamm, aka, That Guy from Mad Men), a fellow who likes to talk and talk and talk. Then Emily Summerspring (really!) (played by Dakota Johnson) arrives. The name simply screams “hippie chick”, does it not?

Via Back Stage

But here’s the thing: every one of our merry band of hotel patrons (plus the hotel’s last remaining clerk, Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman), has a dark secret. Well, actually, most of them do. (Darlene’s dark secret seems to be her tendency to come in flat on the harmonies.)

I don’t want to say too much more for fear of revealing spoilers. Set in the 60s, the music is well-chosen and evocative of the era. (And music figures in many interesting ways in the plot.) The cinematography is top notch, the acting exemplary.

Given that the narrative is told from multiple viewpoints, upon close examination, all the perceived complications actually boil down to a fairly simple story told in a convoluted way.

And I can’t forget to mention Chris Hemsworth’s scenery-chewing role as Billy Lee, the wacko cult leader you’ll love to hate. His appearance leads to the inevitable “tie people up and torture them” scene, which drags things down a bit.

Via Variety

My question is, who owns this joint, anyway? They suggested the answer, but never really made it clear.

This movie has pretty much everything I either love or hate about the 60s. From R&B to psychedelia, California dreamin’ and cult madness to stock footage of Richard Nixon and high levels of paranoia about, oh, government surveillance. I guess.

Watchable movie with great music and the occasional great moment.

But the movie does drag a wee bit …

This trailer will give you an idea! 🙂

Originally published at on September 26, 2019.

New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including the Sam McRae Mystery series. Screenwriter, podcaster, and blogger. My website:

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