A film review by Craig J. Koban November 3, 2018

HOTEL ARTEMIS jj
  

2018, R, 91 mins.

 

Jodie Foster as Jean Thomas / The Nurse  /  Dave Bautista as Everest  /  Sofia Boutella as Nice  /  Jeff Goldblum as The Wolf King / Niagara  /  Sterling K. Brown as Waikiki  /  Jenny Slate as Morgan  /  Charlie Day as Acapulco  /  Evan Jones as Trojan  /  Brian Tyree Henry as Honolulu  /  Kenneth Choi  /  Nathan Davis Jr. as Ricardo  /  Ramses Jimenez as Tariq

Written and directed by Drew Pearce

 

 

 

HOTEL ARTEMIS belongs on a list of films that I like to call PWP efforts: ones that have a great premise without payoff.  It's a new cyberpunk futuristic sci-fi thriller from writer/director Drew Pearce (making his feature filmmaking debut), who has devised a mostly unique concept for his dystopian film, which also benefits from a very strong ensemble cast, a swift and assured momentum, and a low-rent vibe and feel that somehow doesn't feel like disposable B-grade junk food.  For as efficiently produced as the film is, HOTEL ARTEMIS nevertheless fails to have any longstanding lingering power well after seeing it, which is a small shame, especially for how stylish and visually intoxicating Pearce makes his violently oppressive world of tomorrow. 

Set over the course of one long night in the not-to-distant future of 2028 L.A., the film opens by introducing us to its bleak world of violent city wide protests, which make the streets all but unliveable.  Realizing that the police are usually tied up with mass rioters and looters littering the fire engulfed streets of the City of Angels, one four man bank robbing crew - led by brothers Sterling K. Brown and Brian Tyree Henry) - try to crack a very tricky vault at one well secured financial institution, even taking hostages in the process.  Realizing that they are getting nowhere fast, the band of crooks end up resorting to petty theft by stealing the hostage's belongings and make their way into the dangerous streets, but find themselves getting into a bloody gun battle with local cops.  Two of the crew dies, leaving the two siblings alive to escape police capture and seek refuge anywhere they can. 

 

 

They manage to make their way to the Hotel Artemis, which is overseen by "The Nurse" Jean Thomas (Jodie Foster) and her muscle bound right hand man, the very appropriately named Everest (Dave Batista).  They hotel isn't any ordinary one, though, seeing as it's a fortress-like, members-only club for high ranking criminals that can afford to pay the Nurse her high fees to seek entry and medical care.  The 22 year old establishment is nearing full capacity, but Jean lets in the bank robbing brothers, with one of them horribly wounded and needing care.  Some of the other "clients" in the hotel round off the film's motley criminal crew, including Charlie Day's trash talking and morally twisted arms dealer and a sexy French assassin for hire (Sofia Boutella), who's in there to have a bullet wound in her arm taken care of.  It should be noted that while in the hotel its clients are given theme rooms, which also serves as their code names (like Acapulco and Waikiki).  Things seem to be moving along normally for the Nurse, but a few unexpected curveballs are thrown her way, like the appearance of a wounded cop (Jenny Slate), who's admitted despite the establishment's "no cops" policy, but mostly because the Nurse has a past with her.  Then there is The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum), L.A.'s top crime boss who funds the hospital that also has ties to the Nurse.  Complicating things ever further is the kindpin's hot heated son (Zachary Quinto), who proves to be the proverbial loose canon that threatens the stability of the hotel. 

HOTEL ARTEMIS doesn't squander any time on wasteful exposition and instead thrusts viewers immediately into its oppressive world.  Pearce's screenplay is expeditious when it comes to introducing audience members to the film's core premise and its menagerie of colorful rogues with minimal fuss.  Another impressive attribute on display here is the film's strong production values on a limited budget, in particular the hotel itself, which becomes an intriguing secondary character all on its own throughout the narrative.  There's ample amounts of visual wit on display all throughout HOTEL ARTEMIS, and Pearce demonstrates here - like, say, a John Carpenter before him - how to make his film look sleek and polished with minimal resources.  It also could be argued that the film also borrows heavily from Carpenter's stylistic playbook, with echoes of other post-apocalyptic fare like ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK reverberating all through the production.  There's a grungy level of verisimilitude on display here despite the film's out-there and bizarre storyline. 

Pearce has also assembled and wonderfully eclectic cast to help lead the charge, chief among them Foster (making her first film as an actress in five years), who has never looked so world weary and frankly haggard in a role before.  She brings a necessary level of performance presence and gravitas to the film and acclimates herself well (interestingly, this marks back-to-back sci-fi outings for her after 2013's ELYSIUM).  Charlie Day brings his requisite level of twitchy and nervous energy to his drugged up weapons seller, and Boutella is pitch perfectly cast as her exotic and merciless killer.  Goldblum (who's somewhat underused here) generates some scenes of dark comedy in his crime boss that's equally dangerous and quippy at the same time.  And Dave Batista displays (as was the case with the two GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY films) how he can somehow fly in under the radar and be a film's secret comedic weapon.  He more than facilitates his character's beefy brawn, but he also is given some of the film's more juicy one liners, like when he's dealing with some rather impatient guests by nonchalantly threatening, "See that badge on me?  I'm a health care professional!" 

Pearce also has some fun orchestrating a few of HOTEL ARTEMIS' wonderfully choreographed and hellishly violent action sequences, such as an absolute show-stopper featuring Boutella's slinky dress wearing mercenary taking out swarm after swarm of murderous thugs with relative ease.  Again, the film has a sleazy grindhouse appeal that works well in its favor, and as an atmospheric future noir Pearce crafts a dynamic looking experience.  I think where HOTEL ARTEMIS is fundamentally lacking in is with its underlining story, which - for as quickly as it doles out particulars of its world and characters - never really feels more than a series of arbitrarily sewn together vignettes in search of a larger and more meaningful narrative.  The film has colorful characters, a sense of macabre whimsy, and thrillingly intense standoffs, but beyond that Pearce never makes a compelling case for his rookie effort's long-term staying power.  Then there is the somewhat contrived nature of the larger riots outside of the hotel, which are kind of conveniently introduced, then abandoned, and then return to when Pearce wants to artificially drum up suspense.   

And maybe HOTEL ARTEMIS is simply too nimble footed and short for its own good.  I've usually been hard as of late on self indulgently bloated films that seem to go on forever (like the recent BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE, a crime thriller that I liked, but it felt like an 140-plus minute endurance test), but at barely over 90 minutes HOTEL ARTEMIS has the nagging sensation of being a film that had either an awful lot edited out or simply not enough shot to flesh out its world building with satisfyingly rich strokes.  I liked the overall hook of Pearce's first film, as well his sharply attuned skills at marrying ultra violence with ultra dark comedy (which is always a tricky dichotomy).   Still, too much of HOTEL ARTEMIS seems like a rough first edit/draft work that could have benefited from more finesse and sense of completion.  There are things to admire in this absurd sci-fi thriller and I liked some of its inspired core ideas, but the end result on display here ultimately doesn't come off as well rounded as it should have to convince moviegoers to buy their tickets and check in. 

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