Make no mistake (and I don’t think there’s any chance you will), Hotel Artemis is a B-movie wrapped in an A-list cast of actors who are clearly enjoying the hell out of being a part of something that is outlandish and weirdly enjoyable.
Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not knocking the film for being a B-movie (some of my best friends are B-movies), nor am I dinging it for using its cast of truly remarkable actors to fortify its flimsy plot and junk medical science. If anything, that actually makes it worth checking out if you want to see something truly different this weekend.
Set in a not-too-distant future Los Angeles, Hotel Artemis gives us a snapshot of a period when water has become a privately held commodity that is bought and sold like oil. On the particular day we enter the plot, the company that owns the city’s water supply has officially privatized all access to water, setting off roaming, rioting masses that converge on the headquarters of the company that has all the water. It just so happens that a few blocks away from said building is a vintage hotel that houses a secret, members-only emergency room, used by criminals who pay a hefty price and must follow certain rules to gain access.
If you think this sounds a little like the hotel in John Wick, it is, but it isn’t, and you should probably see both movies before making that call. The woman who runs the Artemis is known as The Nurse (Jodie Foster, using a generic tough-gal voice and chewing up scenery like the professional she is), and she’s a stickler for rules, using her enforcer Everest (Dave Bautista) to, well, enforce them.
There’s no reason to go into the details of the criminals who currently occupy the institution, but they are all given rooms that seemed to be named after lovely vacation spots—Nice, Niagara, Acapulco, Honolulu—and despite previously existing or newly born beefs with each other, they are not allowed to hurt other guests. We see the arrival of a man who will occupy the Waikiki room (Sterling K. Brown), who has just committed a heist with his brother (Brian Tyree Henry of “Atlanta”), who was severely injured in the crime. The primary reason we know this is set in the future is the medical equipment that uses nano-technology to fix certain injuries, 3D printing to generate damaged organs, etc. And while the rooms don’t appear especially sanitary, the tech and The Nurse seem to be very good at their jobs.
Charlie Day (Pacific Rim) and Sofia Boutella (Atomic Blonde) are also convalescing guests who don’t really like each other, and at least one of them might have ulterior motives for being in the hotel at that exact time. Jenny Slate shows up as a police officer injured in the riots who is allowed in (law enforcement usually is banned) because The Nurse knows her from her life before taking over the Artemis.
But it all feels like prologue when the hotel’s owner, a flashy man known as The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum, of course), shows up with his eager-to-please son (Zachary Quinto) for a little work. With all of these volatile players in the same place, violence and wildly entertaining action sequences commence, with The Nurse stuck in the middle, attempting to keep her members from dying.
Making his feature film debut, writer/director Drew Pearce (a veteran screenwriter with credits on such films as Iron Man 3 and Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation) has a real gift for keeping things moving and never really letting up. It’s not a perfect way to make an action movie, but in a film where, if things get quiet for too long, you start to realize how dumb this movie is, it’s probably the one that works the best. Hotel Artemis feels like a casting director said “Who’s been cool in movies or television lately?” and just tossed this awesome collection of actors into a confined space to see who gets out alive. I can’t find a single flaw in that approach.
The more social commentary portions of the film seem a bit unnecessary and either needed to be fleshed-out more or just removed completely. They just aren’t interesting enough to justify their inclusion at current levels. But that’s little more than window dressing, and the rest of Hotel Artemis flies by in a blood-soaked blur. Foster is the glue that holds it all together, and it’s really enjoyable watching her dig her teeth into something this energetic and, dare I say, hip.
And when she and Goldbloom come face to face for the first time, forget about it. Where’s that prequel? The film is bathed in blues and red and whatever other colors are saturating the building based on whatever threat level the building is under. It only adds to the surreal nature of a movie that’s fairly surreal to begin with. I may be insane, but I really dug this ridiculous little movie.
The film opens in Chicago on Friday.
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