Hotel Artemis, 2018.
Directed by Drew Pearce.
Starring Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Brian Tyree Henry, Jenny Slate, Zachary Quinto, Charlie Day, Dave Bautista and Kenneth Choi.
Set in riot-torn, near-future Los Angeles, ‘Hotel Artemis’ follows the Nurse, who runs a secret, members-only emergency room for criminals.
If Crank is the meaty ham, Smokin’ Aces the sharp cheese and Shoot ‘Em Up the crusty bread, Hotel Artemis is the lite sandwich spread you can faintly taste but still enjoy nonetheless. A gallery of wounded rouges under strict establishment rules are left to their own devices – Joe Carnahan has to be involved somehow, right? A fair guess, but Drew Pearce’s uncouth hospital for scoundrels charade is all his own. From overt John Wick inspirations (OK, maybe not *all* his own) to payoff commitment that cockily takes its gosh-dang time to explode. Oh, it gets “there.” But fast enough?
The year is 2028. Los Angeles has fallen into class warfare brought upon by conglomerate Clear Water and their unfair aqua pricing (or something along those lines). As California burns and crumbles, injured felons are granted safe haven in a members-only medical facility known as Hotel Artemis. This is where Sterling K. Brown’s robber checks his bullet-riddled brother (Brian Tyree Henry) in after a botched bank heist. Head nurse and overseer Jean Thomas (Jodie Foster) gets to work on her new patient, but this is just the beginning of her Wednesday night. A reckless arms dealer (Charlie Day), contract killer (Sofia Boutella) and pen safe filled with “Canary” jewels spell trouble for the Artemis, and that’s before criminal royalty The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) checks in.
Undeniable MVPs are Mt. Everest himself – a gargantuan hulk of an orderly played by Dave Bautista – and the high-class international assassin played by Ms. Boutella. Bautista is ever the pile of muscles who knows his place in an action movie, whenever sheathing a softer side for his frail and anxious boss. Boutella draws a line in the dirt – literally – and *dares* henchmen to dance her deadly tango (for a briefer spell than we’d hope). Either talent could transplant themselves into the most “fun-filled” hitmen collisions we’ve seen before, beating Agent 47 to a pulp or sparring with Michelle Rodriguez in your pick of Fast & Furious renditions. Bautista is the stone-carved bruiser we so hope his dominating stature would permit, and Boutella the still-in-her-red-dress, quick-as-lightning executioner who’s no less lethal. Hard f*#kin’ knocks done right.
The world of Hotel Artemis brims with chaos and degeneration, like a kennel for Bond villains. As John Wick’s Continental syndication exists, so do the sister locations of Artemis from Detroit to Miami. Patients are only known by their room names. Gaudy floral tapestries and almost Egyptian pillar work attempt to mask the Artemis’ blood-stained pillows, further defined by industrial advancements of the future. Massive lock fixtures run wiring up and down bolted doors, robotic attendees do everything from print new organ replacements to complete the surgical procedures – now you get why Foster is just a nurse. Pearce’s universe is rich and worthy of exploration, and that’s where frustration sets in. Us, the audience, left cooped up and going a bit stir crazy.
What becomes evident from once Brown’s older sibling enters Artemis to when [redacted] drives away is that Pearce aims to craft a “popcorn” punisher with serious dramatics – which, meh? Dialogue is better when uber-conservative American stereotype Acapulco (Day) angers Nice (Boutella) by referring to her as “street meat” and him a “22-ounce sirloin,” not Foster trying to stutter an anecdote about a dog who loves playing in traffic (get what you deserve). Jenny Slate’s inclusion only services backstory trauma that once sent Foster’s character spiraling into isolated alcoholism until The Wolf King handed her Artemis’s keys. Then there’s Brown’s own “unlawful brotherhood” arc, full of regret over personal directions he never pursued. Quite the complications.
It’s not enough to pack ruthless good-for-nothings in like sardines. Everyone also has a secret motivation. Red herrings and salacious secrets. I get it. It’s just that at least half of these delays feel unnecessary, and stretch a surprisingly action-less movie thin enough to where we start caring less about what happens – only *when* it all turn a vicious shade of shit.
Pearce also hits many notes cleanly, mind you. Jeff Goldblum as the mandals-wearing, groovy silver fox with a devious smile (his name) is obvious and inspired casting – Zachary Quinto as his hotheaded son who’s not even half his father’s pinky toe even better. Good thing we spend most the film waiting for the duo to arrive? Otherwise, it’s a lot of cat-and-mouse feeling out between characters we so desperately want to unleash their aggression despite enforced rules. Thrillers like the ones I mentioned above pepper excitement while achieving this same depth of story mining, which Hotel Artemis struggles with. By the time Boutella arms herself with scalpels and Bautista grabs a fire axe, it’s a bit like being shaken from a nap. Or, maybe a few minutes earlier with that whole 3D printer “jam” – I’ll give ya that.
Still, yet, Hotel Artemis coasts by with a star-studded cast of renegade players. Charlie Day the very Buddy Israel kind of mouthy asshole who has access to a personal Uber chopper service. Sterling K. Brown a conflicted man of dead stares and conviction. Jodie Foster this tortured soul who tends to the devils of L.A. in a way that almost makes you think she’ll pull a Verbal Kint and just walk away a new woman. The wobbly tightrope that is Waikiki’s (Brown) salvation from riots and police pursuit culminates just as we’d hope – but it’s hard not to feel deprived of even more Dave Bautista/Sofia Boutella cronie decimation. We’re here for the insults, injuries and rock ‘em sock ‘em brawling, and Pearce gets us there – for some, I just fear it won’t be in time.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★