(US - 2018)
Written and directed by Drew Goddard. Cast: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Chris Hemsworth, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Nick Offerman, Xavier Dolan, Shea Whigham, Mark O'Brien, Jim O'Heir, Charles Halford, Manny Jacinto, Tally Rodin, William B. Davis, Katharine Isabelle. (R, 141 mins)
A cursory glance at the trailer for BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE would suggest a throwback to the kinds of winking, referential neo-noirs that were commonplace in the post-Tarantino craze of two decades ago (THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU'RE DEAD, 2 DAYS IN THE VALLEY, etc). It's actually more in line with the later phase of Tarantino's career that gave us a motor-mouthed chamber piece like THE HATEFUL EIGHT, but even that isn't a completely accurate assessment since it's not nearly as self-indulgent. Written and directed by J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon protege Drew Goddard (screenwriter of CLOVERFIELD and THE MARTIAN), EL ROYALE shares many themes and motifs as his previous directing effort, the meta genre deconstruction THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, so much so that as the story begins to play out and the sense of paranoia kicks in, you almost wouldn't be shocked to find Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford observing the goings-on from a secret installation at an undisclosed location and placing bets on who makes it to the end. Goddard also blatantly patterns the structure on vintage Tarantino by dividing the film into chapters and frequently going backwards in the narrative to fill in what was going in at the same time other events have happened, but for the most part, EL ROYALE manages to be its own unique work despite Tarantino's unavoidable influence. It's got a clever, twisty structure with a ton of genuine surprises, a dark sense of humor, shocking bursts of violence, and a game cast, but at nearly two and a half hours, it starts to run on fumes by the end, and the payoff ultimately isn't on the same level as the intricately constructed, densely-plotted build-up.