May 2021

Hotel Artemis (2018)

DIRECTOR: Drew Pearce

CAST: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Dave Bautista, Charlie Day, Jenny Slate, Jeff Goldblum, Zachary Quinto


Hotel Artemis is a slick, engaging action thriller that holds the attention while it lasts (which is just shy of an hour and a half) but ends up feeling a trifle insubstantial and underdeveloped.  Its vibe is halfway between comic book and Tarantino wannabe, and it boasts enough flashy action sequences, colorful characters, tension, and a few twists and turns to engage in the moment, even if the conclusion underwhelms.

It’s 2028, and with riots breaking out across Los Angeles, Hotel Artemis might be either the safest place to be, or the most dangerous.  Artemis is a membership-only stronghold with a strict set of rules that caters exclusively to criminals, those in need of urgent medical attention who can’t go to the hospital.  It has long been presided over by its brusquely efficient, nameless Nurse (Jodie Foster, deliberately made up to look old and haggard), who never sets foot outside, with a hulking orderly (Dave Bautista) as enforcer.  It’s a busy night with a full house of guests, known only by their room assignations, including bank robber Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown), arrogant arms dealer Acapulco (Charlie Day), and mysterious high-priced hitwoman Nice (Sofia Boutella).  The rules are simple and strict: don’t kill any of the other guests during your stay, with a weapons ban to make this more enforceable.  But a few factors are colliding on this hectic night to break the fragile peace inside the Artemis.  One is the fact that, unbeknownst to anyone else, Nice is here to collect a contract on one of her fellow guests.  The others are the arrival of injured mob boss The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum), with his belligerent son (Zachary Quinto) in tow, and policewoman Morgan (Jenny Slate), who has a connection to The Nurse’s past.  Rule-breaking inside and the encroaching riots outside turn Hotel Artemis into a powder keg ready to go off.

Hotel Artemis does some interesting things with world-building.  There’s riots about dwindling water supplies, and The Nurse uses nanites to heal wounds and 3D printers to create synthetic organs, and there’s a dystopian vibe to 2028 Los Angeles.  Alas, these elements are underdeveloped, as are the characters.  The Nurse herself is the glue that holds everything together, only given dimension by a slowly unveiled tragic backstory, but a key confrontation between her and the person who may be responsible feels like it could have been far more impactful with more buildup.  The slim hour-and-twenty-eight-minute runtime bears some of the blame for this.  Some movies zip through a short runtime without outstaying their welcome.  Hotel Artemis could have stood to be longer and more fleshed-out.

On the plus side, there’s a kinetic kick to the action, and Drew Pearce directs slickly, providing enough visceral entertainment to compensate for truncated character development, at least in the moment.  Beginning to end, the movie held my attention (to the extent that one is left wanting more), at least until the somewhat abrupt conclusion, which leaves at least two characters’ fates uncertain and ends a slickly diverting ride on a bit of an underwhelming note.

Hotel Artemis features an interestingly eclectic cast that sports few “stars” but a slew of familiar faces.  Jodie Foster, making her first acting appearance in five years (since 2013’s Elysium), is solid (which is nice to see after her weirdly stilted performance in Elysium), as is Sterling K. Brown as probably the “least bad” of the motley assortment of bad guys holed up in the Artemis, while Dave Bautista, taking a break from Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Drax, provides some backup muscle.  Sofia Boutella slinks around in femme fatale mode, and gets a great kick-ass sequence where she takes down a crowd of goons using only surgical tools swiped off an operating table.  Charlie Day, whose obnoxiousness grates in some roles, fits the part here as Acapulco, who is decidedly not among the few characters we’re rooting for to make it out alive.  Jenny Slate is an in-and-out plot device who serves to draw out The Nurse’s backstory, while Jeff Goldblum is underused and Zachary Quinto gets to play against Mr. Spock type as his aggressive but not terribly bright son who’s longer on threats than he is at actually being able to carry them out.

Hotel Artemis almost feels like a tease, set-up for something that could work with much more development as a TV series (sort of a very dark and violent version of The Love Boat).  As a movie, it’s solidly engaging in the moment but only wets our whistle without completely satisfying our appetite for what it has to offer.  Still, for an hour and a half of dark, stylish action thriller, it’s worth checking out.

* * 1/2