FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2018 --After screening Drew Goddard's latest film, I quickly pulled up the IMDB listing for "Bad Times at the El Royale" to see if Quinton Tarantino had anything to do with it...even in the smallest manner. No. But it is obvious that Goddard is a fan of Tarantino's the very least.


Goddard's neo noir film is set in 1970's Lake Tahoe in a hotel similar to the famed CalNeva Lodge and Casino which straddles the California/Nevada border. (That hotel is currently under serious remodeling after being bought in January this year.) It's a kitchy landmark with its claim to fame being that you can choose your room to either be in California or Nevada, depending on your specific urges. The casino is on the Nevada side.


One particular evening four strangers [initially] check into the now ramshackle El Royale at the same time. A priest - Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), an ersatz vacuum cleaner salesman - Laramie Sullivan (John Hamm), a black night club singer - Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), and a mysterious tough girl going by the name of Ruth (Cailee Spaeny) who is as whacked out as one can imagine. The strung out hotel clerk Miles (Lewis Pullman) checks them in, with his own little secret.

All of the characters are seeking redemption of some kind for stuff that they did or are about to do. All have hiding something or, better still, just not mentioning their true reason for being there. Darlene is perhaps the most innocent as she is just a singer getting the short end of the stick because she won't play along with her white promoter's superiority game.


Father Flynn (no doubt a riff on Bridges Flynn character from "Tron") and Sullivan are both looking for something, Ruth with her little sister Emily (Dakota Johnson) are hiding from someone, and Miles is hiding something really dark about either the hotel or himself or both.


Goddard does a great job of developing the suspense around these characters before revealing each characters secret. It is Ruth and Emily's secret that is introduced near the end of the film as a predictable but still effective turn. Sullivan's secret leads him into the middle of just about everyone else's secret which puts him in danger. Mild demeanor Miles character becomes the ideal antihero and Father Flynn is just out there. It has tones of Tarantino's "Hateful Eight" and "Reservoir Dogs" and "Jackie Brown". And, like most of Tarantino's films, this film is not a shorty - it comes in at two hours and 20 minutes.


The story is involved but fun to watch and each complex character is well cast and fully fleshed out. Chris Hemsworth's character is probably the best cast but the suddenly popular Erivo (she's appearing in Steve McQueen's "Widows" and upcoming "Chaos Walking") is especially good as the lounge singer trying to get a break.


Though it has the definite feel of a Tarantino film, you'll note much less violence. There is some graphic bloodshed, but not as much.


"Bad Times at the El Royale" is a terrific homage to the Tarantino style of neo noir film with great casting, spot on acting and pretty good writing in a production that looks more costly than it is.   -- GRADE B+ --   GEOFF BURTON