Hotel Artemis, the science fiction crime film set on the backdrop of the rioting streets of 2028 Los Angeles, could be described as clunky. Bloated. Over-loaded. An exploitation action film in the clothing of a classier sheep. A lot of slick talk with little substance.
It is all of these things. And quite blatantly. But Drew Pearce’s film is also a helluva lot of entertainment value stuffed into a 93-minute feature.
The film finds a disparate group of injured criminals taking refuge in the eponymous hotel, a building of antiquity that could be the setting of a Wes Anderson film if you wipe away the grime and add some lighting and pastel color. The charm the place once had is evident on the key rack and the rooms’ walls; each room is thematically painted to resemble distinct vacation destinations.
The criminals that check themselves into the hotel (they must own memberships, mind you) are given rooms that serve as their code names for the duration of their stay—Honalulu, Waikiki, Nice, Niagara, Acapulco. They pay a high fee for the services of the hotel’s caretaker, Ms. Nurse (Jodie Foster) as her bodyguard Everest (Dave Bautista) calls her.
The Nurse is a grade-A future surgeon. But on this particular night, there might be too much on her doorstep for her to handle.
The film begins under the assumption that this is the story of “Waikiki” (Sterling K. Brown), an armed robber who brings his brother (Brian Tyree Henry) to the hotel in a desperate attempt to save his life. He is more or less the first person we see in the film, and we learn his backstory early: he was in the middle of the classic one-last-score plot device when his brother caught a bullet.
But Hotel Artemis is really Foster’s film. The Nurse and her hotel are the main characters. When we first meet Foster, her performance comes off strange. The acting in the performance is evident. The mannerisms and vocal affectation are stark and clumsy. But Foster is still able to contort the Nurse into something more than just an odd character, so much so that by the end of the film there is a genuine emotional connection to the character.
That isn’t saying much, though, in a film where emotion takes a backseat to spectacle. The cast is a murders’ row of quality acting talent. Everyone is a name-brand actor. Yet they are playing characters whose emotional depth stems from trite mantras (e.g. “We can’t pick what we’re good at.”) and archetypal backstories.
In relation to this ensemble, the Nurse stands out. Thanks to Foster. But even that character fails to rise to a level of characterization that means much of anything. Her backstory is almost pitifully drawn, bits of the story dotting the film until a groaning final revelation.
The spectacle of the action does not blind us of the poor writing. The dialogue is mostly those clunky and cluttered mantras, people putting intense meaning into the bloody activity of a single night. It becomes melodramatic after a fashion. And we have little stake in the characters, as they are so archetypal in nature. Sure, Foster and Brown have screen presence enough to make us care about their good-natured characters. But there isn’t a lot of weight behind the lines that the cast swing like shots.
The action can be exciting. The plotting has noirish intrigue. There is energy to the construction of scenes. The immediacy of conflict is a constant finger on the pulse of pacing. All of this adds up to a fun time, even if the film itself lacks a central urgency. The urgency we get is contrived to serve the empty entertainment of the action plot.
This sounds like a flaw. In a different film, it might be one. But in Hotel Artemis, we get a great cast wielding an offbeat, close-quarters action story. What results is, in the long run, empty calories. Beer is also empty calories. And sometimes a beer is the perfect way to cap off a day. (Note: if under 21, replace every instance in this review of the term “beer” with “cake”)
Hotel Artemis: B
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)