Writer/Director Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3) has created a tale of a dystopian near-future LA where riots and criminals find a safe haven… as long as they have a membership at the Hotel Artemis. Unfortunately, the film suffers in several ways, not the least of which is the poor use of an otherwise highly talented cast.
In the year 2028, riots ravage Los Angeles. Amidst it all is Hotel Artemis, a members-only hospital where criminals go to The Nurse (Jodie Foster, Silence of the Lambs), with assistance from The Orderly (Dave Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy), for care. Trust and rules govern the hospital, and the primary rules are “No killing other patients,” “No weapons,” and “Don’t disrespect the staff.” Unfortunately, when a group of bank robbers led by Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown, Black Panther) inadvertently end up with something belonging to The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park), everything falls apart from the central characters outward. Add in arms dealer Acapulco (Charlie Day, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and contract killer Nice (Sophia Boutella, Atomic Blonde), and the staff and guests are in for one hell of a night!
Sounds great, but the story is an unfortunate near miss for several reasons. First, while this type of future can be envisioned, it is more of a backdrop that is never explained enough to add credibility to the existence of a facility like the Artemis. Second, we get too little of what is clearly an interesting cast of characters. These are people whose back-stories are clearly interesting, but we don’t see enough of the individuals to care what they are. Third, there are at least two elements of the story that are teased but never followed up on. Finally, and this is an extension of the second point, everything is rushed in such a way that makes it impossible to really care what happens. At just over an hour-and-a-half, there seems to have been no reason not to add an extra 20-30 minutes and give the audience a reason to want to be there.
Jodie Foster is, as always, a strong female character. But as things degenerate, everything spirals further out of her character’s control. Unfortunately, her control of the character does too. This seems to be more of an issue with the direction, because there is a great deal of talent in this cast, and all of the characterizations are virtually lifeless and uninspiring to care about. Notably, Bautista and Brown manage to make the most they can of their characters, showing the audience their raw talent. Zachary Quinto is particularly disappointing as The Wolf King’s son, given his fine previous performances in Star Trek and American Horror Story.
It almost seems like the setting and mood got more attention than the story and action. The exteriors portray well the danger of being outside, regardless of what side of the law you are on. The interiors give a sense of noir, with a touch of modern darkness… as colorful and welcoming as a renovated art-deco hotel from one hundred years before, yet still distant and private.
The soundtrack starts off well enough, but as the film progresses it gets almost lost in the action and confusion. Similarly, the cinematography is lovely, taking full advantage of moody lighting, but falters in the action scenes where characters are lost in the blur.
Hotel Artemis seems to be an exercise in how to nearly make a lot of wonderful things happen, and yet how to nearly miss the mark on almost everything that could have been so right.