A Film and TV Review by Tim Riley

BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE (Rated R) Contemporary film noir thrillers would normally be the province of Quentin Tarantino’s handiwork, and so the thought comes to mind that “Bad Times at the El Royale” would be the latest film in his pantheon of this genre. The guess is a good one but Drew Goddard, serving as writer and director, is the creative force behind the weird story of strangers meeting at a rundown hotel with a dark past that literally straddles the state line between Nevada and California.

From initial appearances, the El Royale in 1969 has the look of the kind of place that should be avoided, much like how Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane should have stayed clear of Norman Bates’ decrepit motel in “Psycho.” Lost souls and other dubious types are drawn to this eerily mysterious place.  The motel is managed by timid, nerdy Miles (Lewis Pullman) who is indifferent about his clientele and yet harbors secrets about how management expects him to keep an eye on guests.

Smarmy vacuum-cleaner salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm), holds court in the hotel lobby by offering cocktails and conversation with anyone who happens to wander into the El Royale.  Oddly, he seeks to check in to one specific room for reasons unknown. Arriving shortly after is Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), who may have once had a decent career as a soul singer but is now reduced to scrimping by on gigs in seedy Reno lounges.

Seemingly out of place for a priest, Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has picked a strange place to spend the night, but in his case appearances can be deceiving. Sullen hippie chick Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) arrives on the scene with a big chip on her shoulder.  She has a strange connection to cult guru Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) who has a violent temper. The volatile mix of motel patrons inevitably leads to violence and bloodshed.  Only two people will get out of this mess alive, and so “Bad Times” delivers on its film noir promise.

This thriller is an intriguing bit of business with stolen money hidden under the floorboard of a motel room, kidnappings, an abundance of flashbacks, a creepy cult gathering, a continuous sense of foreboding, and a climax of brutal mayhem.  “Bad Times at the El Royale” is a fascinating retro experience.



Senior citizens can be good fodder for situation comedies.  Think back to “The Golden Girls” more than a generation ago.  The FOX television network is running with “The Cool Kids,” a new comedy about a group of feisty seniors living in a retirement home. The humor is often quite predictable and formulaic, but why shouldn’t Baby Boomers have a series of their own.  FOX gives “The Cool Kids” a slot on Friday nights, which seems appropriate because millennials are probably not tuning in on a weekend.

The stellar cast offers this program a chance to entertain.   A group of male buddies led by gruff Hank (David Alan Grier) is mourning the loss of Jerry, the fourth member of the gang that has staked out its own table at Shady Meadows. Martin Mull’s Charlie is a raconteur with a lot of wild, improbable stories about his glory days.  Leslie Jordan’s Sid is a flamboyant character who apparently came out of the closet late in life and is making up for lost time. As the friends ponder who should inherit Jerry’s seat at the table, pushy Margaret (Vicki Lawrence) muscles her way into the open spot much to the verbal protests uttered by the trio.  She sets the tone with the retort, “Who are you?  The Cool Kids.”

Margaret is a force to be reckoned with, and that’s where a lot of humor comes into play.  Establishing her strong will, she beats Sid in a flash at arm wrestling.  The opinionated Hank, full of bluster and bravado, is no match to her steely will. As expected, Margaret gets her way and becomes one of the gang, and before long they challenge authority by rejecting the idea that a memorial service for Jerry would be an event with a “cheese plate and balloons.”

Show creator Charlie Day (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) mentioned during the summer TV press tour that the objective was to avoid tired old people jokes and write about people of this age saying, “Hey, life isn’t over.”On that score, “The Cool Kids” succeeds because the three guys and Margaret get embroiled in all sorts of wild adventures, from getting arrested for stealing a car to crashing a nightclub party after being rejected by the bouncer.  Indeed, they’re looking for a good time mischief. In a sign of the times, “The Cool Kids” is raunchier than what was on network television three decades ago, but the wonderful cast knows how to deliver the laughs for biting retorts that range from mediocre to inspired lunacy.  I’m looking to give this new series a chance.