Criminals check in, but only some of them check out.
Movies about killers, thieves, and their ilk typically offer a balance of some sort by also featuring “good guys” and/or innocents, whether they be lead characters or supporting, and it’s somewhat of a rarity to find a film where everyone’s guilty of something. No authorities in pursuit, no blameless family members — just villains. Hotel Artemis comes just one small character shy of fitting that particular bill, but it’s still a film that offers up only shades of gray between its heroes and villains. That’s not a bad thing.
It’s 2028, and Los Angeles is alive with anger and bloodshed. Riots rock the streets after the for-profit water company shuts off the city’s supply, and a trio of thieves are using the noise as cover for a bank robbery. It doesn’t go well leaving two of the robbers, brothers, injured and in need of medical assistance. Lucky for them the Hotel Artemis — a highrise medical clinic closed to the public but open to crooks and criminals whose membership dues are fully paid up — is just down the street. They arrive and are assigned names based on their “hospital” room, but Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) and Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry) aren’t the only patients being treated by the Nurse (Jodie Foster) and her assistant Everest (Dave Bautista).
Nice (Sofia Boutella) is an assassin on the mend, and Acapulco (Charlie Day) is an arms dealer aching to exit the city, but it’s the imminent arrival of two newcomers who are about to set the Artemis ablaze. One’s a cop (Jenny Slate) who knew the Nurse back in better days, and the other is the Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) — a crime boss who rules the city through violence and fear and who just so happens to be the building’s benefactor. People typically come to the Artemis to survive, but by the time this night’s over some of these visitors will be very, very dead.
Director Drew Pearce makes his debut after creating the TV series No Heroics and co-writing the blockbuster hits Iron Man 3 and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, and while the budget and scope here are notably smaller than those two features delivered Pearce’s affection for action and humor is still apparent. The film’s strongest in its opening act as story and characters are introduced with an engaging wit, and watching them mesh and/or clash builds payoffs we trust are heading our way.
Relationships and conflicts are revealed, but as the Wolf King’s hordes descend on the Artemis various story threads and plot points seem to take a backseat to fighting and fleeing. “Getting out’s always tougher than getting in,” says Waikiki to the Nurse, but while he’s referring to robberies and their current predicament of escaping the hotel alive the observation is just as applicable to Hotel Artemis itself. Clear inspiration from John Wick‘s Continental aside, the setup here does a fantastic job of world-building with its oddball characters and interesting picture of the near future only to do far too little with them.
While the story seems to peter out the film itself remains highly watchable as Pearce keeps things entertaining enough while cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon (The Handmaiden) keeps them visually engaging. It’s a heavy task as the hotel’s interior is dark and decrepit-looking, but its various high-tech upgrades periodically inject sci-fi elements into this otherwise straightforward shoot ’em up. Nanites, bio-electronic upgrades, 3D-printed organs, and more remind viewers that this world isn’t quite our own. That said, the Nurse’s comment that “This is America honey,” and that 85% of the injuries she sees are bullet holes feels more than a little topical.
The cast does good work, and while story falters their charisma helps carry the movie forward. Foster is always a delight to see on the big screen — it’s been five years since Elysium — and she gives the Nurse a strong personality, a side of pathos, and an adorable little hustle. I’d happily watch a whole movie that’s just her and Bautista bantering as they patch up thieves, killers, and other criminals. Boutella’s roles continue to grow, a trend I hope continues, and here she’s allowed to kick ass with a solid hallway fight while still getting plenty of time to act.
Hotel Artemis feels at times like a movie that started bigger before slowly being chipped down by budget restraints. You won’t think too much about your ninety-minute stay after checking (it) out, but it’s still worth the visit.