Hotel Artemis isn’t a movie I ever need to think of again. But as a slice of pulpy sci-fi action, buoyed by a strong performance from Jodie Foster and a great surrounding cast, writer/director Drew Pearce (Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation, Iron Man 3) delivers a fun little R-rated trifle.
Watching Hotel Artemis, I can’t help but think of movies like Johnny Mnemonic, Strange Days, and a wash of similar movies; stories set it the fairly near future where technology is just a touch ahead of our own and where the problems of today have become full, raging epidemics. I don’t know if they’re technically cyperpunk—the exact semantics elude me—but they’re at least cyberpunk adjacent. (I get a similar vibe from Upgrade, though I haven’t seen that one yet.)
In near-ish future Los Angeles, riots have broken out over the private company that controls the water supply doing what corporations do, screwing people over en masse. As bedlam threatens to engulf the city, Nurse (Jodie Foster) runs a secret, private hospital for criminals. Think a members-only type of establishment that might exist in the John Wick universe and you have the idea. There are strict rules, like no killing other guests, no real names, no guns, which is why it’s survived for more than 20 years. Over the course of single night, however, a collection of characters intersect and everything goes to all kinds of hell.
Hotel Artemis is bouncy and fun and, despite violence aplenty, never takes itself too seriously. Big names pepper the cast and everyone clearly has a damn fine time. Dave Bautista plays Everest, the Hotel’s muscle/orderly who may be a bit on the dim side, but remains fiercely loyal to Nurse. He manages to be sweet and earnest and funny while still finding time to pummel random goons.
After a robbery gone wrong, Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) and his brother, Honolulu, an unfortunately underutilized Brian Tyree Henry from Atlanta, wind up at the Artemis. Sultry killer Nice (Sofia Boutella) hangs around with a mysterious mission of her own and a vague connection to Waikiki. Charlie Day plays Acapulco, a seedy gun runner, though as you probably imagine coming from Day, he’s also a raging maniac. And Jeff Goldblum shows up as Niagara, aka the Wolf King of Los Angeles, a vicious crime boss who runs the whole town.
These various threads come together and branch out as they all relate to one another in different ways; some obvious, others less so. As so often happens with sprawling ensembles, not everyone gets their due. I mentioned how Henry has little to do but act like he’s been shot, but there’s also a momentum killing aside with the usually wonderful Jenny Slate—she serves as an inciting incident, so there’s no way to excise her, but her whole arc is drab and dull. Zachary Quinto, as a fuck up youngest son trying to impress his crime boss daddy, also receives similarly short shrift.
But Hotel Artemis is Jodie Foster’s show and she’s pretty rad. She dives into Nurse’s wounded past and issues with agoraphobia and addiction, shuffling around like a strange old biddy on speed. It’s a great joy to watch her go head to head with Brown and Goldblum and even Bautista. The latter may dwarf her physically, but she never seems small in comparison. Even in what’s realistically a goofy, exploitation throwback, she’s fantastic and compelling and has a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
On paper, Brown’s character doesn’t look like much—he’s basically a stock brother, loyal to his kin, despite knowing it will cost him dearly. But he imbues Waikiki with more nuance and depth than characters of this ilk often have and you can practically read his face like book. There’s a very good reason he’s quickly becoming a huge star, because he’s that good. For her part, Boutella does the badass femme fatale thing she can probably do in her sleep at this point, but she definitely reminds everyone just why she gets cast in that role. She has hands down the best fight scene and someone needs to give her her own action franchise post haste.
Most known as a writer, this marks Drew Pearce’s feature directorial debut, and he’s fine. The strength lies in the writing. Structurally and in the way he doles out the details—the story hints and alludes, giving the audience only the details we need about the world and the characters’ histories for us to understand the current situation—you can tell his affection for the script. It feels very much like a writer’s film. It’s not always pretty, and the pieces don’t always fit together, but he keeps most of the balls in the air and the pace moving right along.
While it looks good, for the most part, it feels very workmanlike, despite being shot by standout cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon (It, Oldboy, The Handmaiden). Though we do get flashes of his collaborations with Park Chan-wook, most notably a hallway fight some viewers may find familiar. The production design is strong, driving home the gritty, dystopian vibe as well as the advanced tech options. And Cliff Martinez delivers a banger of a score that drives the whole thing.
While it’s fun and full of charming performances, Hotel Artemis lacks much in the way of emotional stakes, tries and fails to provide social commentary, and nothing it feeds you really sticks to the ribs. But everyone appears to know precisely what kind of movie this is and thoroughly enjoys themselves, which translates to the viewer. The drama may fall flat, but fans of futuristic, noir-tinged action can do much worse than an overnight stay at the Artemis. [Grade: B-]
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