When their bank job goes wrong in the middle of the worst riot in LA’s history, a pair of brothers need to take shelter in the Hotel Artemis, the secret hospital for criminals on the night another, bigger job is going down.
This is a seriously frustrating film. It seems that Hotel Artemis just wants to have intriguing ideas, but doesn’t want to spend the time to flesh them out or execute them. Just about everything about the world that Hotel Artemis exists in both tantalizes and never leads anywhere.
It’s set in 2028 L.A., and there’s a lot of unnecessary, pseudo-sci-fi tech. Cool. In this near-future, water has been privatized and so people are rioting. Cool. There’s a gang lord who owns L.A., called the Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum in a glorified cameo), who bankrolls this hospital for criminals. Cool. The Nurse, Mrs. Thomas (Jodie Foster), runs the place with an iron fist. Cool. There’s a strict set of rules that criminals must abide by while there, so that the place can keep running. Cool. Apparently, there are other places like it throughout the country. Cool. The brothers (Sterling K. Brown and Brian Tyree Henry) will apparently need to hole up against an onslaught of thugs. Cool. A wounded cop (Jenny Slate) from the Nurse’s past comes to the door looking for help–she needs to be protected from the criminals who will want her dead. Cool. On the night the film takes place, an assassin (Sofia Boutella) is prepping for another job happening inside the hotel that threatens to break down the fragile peace of the place. Cool.
All of this sounds like it should be excellent. But nothing – nothing – pays off in the way that it should. Writer-director Drew Pearce (writer of Iron Man 3 and Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation) draws heavily upon worlds of both John Wick and The Purge, making it feel like a spin-off of both. The hotel would be at home in either universe, with no malapropism. Unfortunately, in borrowing heavily from the DNA from those franchises, it also should have taken a cue from both: it needs significantly more ambition and intensity and character development than it has.
To start, there’s not enough action–not even close. This is a film about a secret hotel where criminals and assassins come to hide! This should be action-packed on the level of John Wick or Atomic Blonde, with Assault on Precinct 13 mixed in for flavor. But it never comes close to the intensity or sheer gutsiness of any of those films. There’s one fight scene, and it’s abbreviated so much that it feels incomplete.
What’s more difficult is the surface-level characterization that is made to feel deep. Sherman (Brown) is supposed to be trying to get out of the criminal life, but we’re just told about it–no sign that it’s on the horizon. The Nurse has a tragic backstory that Pearce attempts to show, but he tries to construct it with way too much coincidence, which comes out of nowhere. It’s an obvious one that could’ve been set up with more subtlety.
It’s not a total loss, however. The acting is generally pretty good, elevating the doldrums of a script (this seems to be a trend for me lately). I will watch anything with the ever charismatic Sterling K. Brown (I first discovered him in Supernatural). Jodi Foster is empathetic, with a way of carrying herself that makes me believe she’s a decrepit, washed-up old nurse. David Bautista, the Orderly, is fun and earnest, somewhat reminiscent of his Guardians of the Galaxy character, but in a much more nuanced way. Sofia Boutella plays an amazing assassin, and for the first time since I’ve seen her act, I believe her; she’s truly engaging, but misused. Zachary Quinto, as the son of the Wolf King, is criminally underwritten and undeveloped as well, basically just Fredo to Goldblum’s Godfather. Charlie Day, as always, is fun and delightful as a slightly-maniacal arms dealer.
This film should’ve been about protecting the cop or about killing the mob boss or about the Nurse or Sherman leaving the criminal life. Instead, the film is about all of those things, with about a dozen more minute plot and world-building threads thrown in for good measure, all of which unfocus the film significantly. In short, all I’m left with after seeing Hotel Artemis is everything that this movie should’ve been–and little else.