By: Will Ashton (Three Beers) –
Imagine if The Raid happened in the assassin hotel from John Wick: Chapter Two. It’s also filled with the assorted characters seen in Smokin’ Aces. Meanwhile, outside of the joint, The Purge is happening. That’s generally what you can expect from Hotel Artemis, the directorial debut of screenwriter Drew Pearce. The pen who helped craft Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and Iron Man 3 (alongside Shane Black), Pearce has established himself as a writer behind pulpy, action-driven character pieces. That’s basically what you can expect from his directing debut as well, although it isn’t quite as confident and consistently entertaining as either of those films. Not without wit or spunk, but never quite as smart or compelling as it could be (and ultimately should be), Hotel Artemis provides a strong ensemble with good production details, a nice sense of dread, and promising characters, but it doesn’t prove itself to be entirely satisfying.
The year is 2028. It’s Los Angeles, and there are riots and chaos driving the city of angels. But it’s not just L.A. that is receiving its fair share of mayhem. Across the world, there is pandemonium, although we only focus on the madness in this town — specifically in our title hotel, where assassins pay top dollar to be accommodated and “fixed,” with the managerial duties run by The Nurse (Jodie Foster, in a welcome return to the big screen), the doctor who will fix up any crooked or wretched soul for the right price, so long as they follow the strict rules firmly set into place. Even in a world ruled by chaos, Hotel Artemis is a civil place. Even if it’s filled to the brim with ace criminals, there’s order found inside. But that changes.
Admit the terror and destruction outside, The Nurse receives an odd visit on an otherwise-typical Wednesday at the Artemis. Police officer Morgan (Jenny Slate) is found outside the doors of the hotel, and while the Artemis has strict rules against cops being let inside, The Nurse recognizes Morgan from another life. In haste, and in complete discretion with her burly assistant, Everest (Dave Bautista), they rescue the wounded officer and try not to provoke chaos inside the walls of the Artemis. But that’s only the beginning of their problems because they’ll soon be paid a visit from The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum), the owner of the Hotel Artemis and L.A.’s criminal kingpin, and his recluse, entitled son, Crosby (Zachary Quinto). Things will turn sour when they get there, and The Nurse already has her fair share of problems.
She’s got patrons, patients, and troublemakers inside, and that includes Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown), a smooth criminal with a wounded junkie, Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry), Nice (Sofia Boutella), a deadly assassin waiting to exact her revenge, and Acapulco (Charlie Day), a loud-mouthed, elitist criminal who doesn’t know what’s best for him. Together, they’ll try to survive another night at the Hotel Artemis.
Hotel Artemis is, above all else, a well-crafted film — from a production standpoint, at least. It boasts great talent, both in front and behind of the camera. The ensemble is, of course, nothing to scoff at, and everyone involved does at least a pretty good job. Nobody sticks out, and nobody feels like a weak link. But it is ultimately Jodie Foster’s movie, and she makes a wonderful return to the silver screen through her wacky-yet-wounded protagonist, one that is given more weight and pathos through her thoughtful take. Dave Bautista is a delight here, as is Jeff Goldblum, as per usual. Sterling K. Brown always does solid work, and Sofia Boutella once again proves she’s a major star on the rise. I can’t wait to see her more.
Drew Pearce also knows the golden rule when it comes to making your first film: fill your picture with as many talented, experienced people as possible. That’s certainly the case here. Cinematographer Chung Chung-hoo (Oldboy, IT) makes it look marvelous, as per usual, and when you got an original score from Cliff Martinez, you’ll be hard-pressed to complain. There’s a great sense of pulpy dread laced throughout here, which gives it the unsettling nerve it needs when it really gets into the action. And the production design of the Hotel Artemis is also very dynamic and eye-catching. It’s a world that treats the eye well.
Hotel Artemis is the kind of movie that should pack a solid punch. But often, Pearce leaves you waiting. That’s not the say Hotel Artemis is lackluster, necessarily; it’s simply that there’s room for a better movie here that isn’t fully realized in this first directorial outing. The writing is ultimately the weakest component here. The jokes don’t have the edgy wit they need, and the story feels like an afterthought at times. It’s evident Hotel Artemis is the kind of movie where the world-building and the character building are given more concentration than the story. Which is fine, since the world building and the characters are, for the most part, investing or enjoyable. But there’s no doubt that it’s a little derivative. Not terribly so, but still. You’ve kinda seen all those components before, even if they haven’t been done in this exact same way before. Perhaps if Drew Pearce spent more time working out the script, his first directorial feature would’ve been stronger. Nevertheless, it ultimately results in a slightly underwhelming first movie.
In addition to the story being a little underwhelmed, it’s also — weirdly enough — a bit crowded too. In short, there are probably too many characters in Hotel Artemis. That’s not to say any of the characters are bad, necessarily; there are just too many of them. As the synopsis above probably suggested, truth be told. They’re all fun and eccentric in their own little ways, but they don’t come together as cohesively as they could’ve, and maybe should’ve, in this film. I don’t know if Hotel Artemis was a long-in-the-works passion project burning inside Drew Pearce’s mind, but it sometimes plays that way. There is a great deal of attention provided to minor details for these characters. That makes them a little more fleshed out, but there’s also the sense that not every one of them is given their full time to shine. It’s a shame because there’s a genuinely rock solid movie here, and we got essentially just the sorta average version.
Hotel Artemis is mostly fun. It’s not perfect, but most movies from first-time filmmakers are not. The cast is strong, the characters are dynamic and there’s a good sense of pulpy intensity throughout. And the action will satisfy those who want some solid ass-kicking. Is it a mandatory watch? No, but it’s certainly an enjoyable, if quickly disposable and almost instantly forgettable, Redbox rental. If you plan to check into Hotel Artemis, it’ll be worth your while. But don’t expect it to have a long residence inside your memory.
Hotel Artemis (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time the characters mention, or allude to, the rules of the Hotel Artemis.
Take a Drink: anytime characters go into excessive background detail about their lives (and kills).
Take a Drink: anytime a character says the word “Artemis.”
Take a Drink: every time the Nurse is seen taking (or hiding) a drink.
Take a Drink: every time a new major character is introduced into the fold.
Take a Shot: in celebration of Jodie Foster being in movies again! Yay!