Release Date: June 8, 2018
Director: Drew Pearce
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 94 minutes
The neo-noir brutality of Hotel Artemis signals a burgeoning trend in the post-John Wick ethos of gun-crazed action films probing the insular echelons of organized crime’s secret society. Bottled up in the tacky, nouveau riche halls of the titular institution, where even the most violent criminal can get the best medical attention that stolen money can buy, we begin to recognize a newfound interest the action genre is taking in the idea of privileged felons who run in circles of exclusivity as much as criminality.
The newly crowned subgenre bared fruit with the John Wick series and Atomic Blonde, but as directed by newcomer Drew Pearce, Hotel Artemis stumbles by letting its unique premise (an original by director Pearce) be swamped by the predictable tangents and repetitive cliches of the action film genre to sap his bloody hospital crime drama of any spark. Outside of a bold aesthetic and a solid-but-bloated cast, Hotel Artemis is a mindless romp of bullets and scalpels that seeks out what it wants to be and settles in comfortably despite its evident promise.
Set in the near future where water has been privatized and Los Angeles is tearing itself apart with civil unrest, crime sprees and rioting, an alcoholic, agoraphobic surgeon (played by Jodie Foster in a delightfully manic performance) acts as caretaker and matriarch to a makeshift hospital catering to the criminal underworld, located on the penthouse floor of a derelict hotel. Her guests are a mix of thieves, bank robbers, arms dealer and assassins, and she runs the exclusive, high-tech clinic where you can have new organs 3D printed for you while you’re injected with restorative nanites.
A botched bank heist and an assassination plot find hospital members Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown), Nice (Sophia Boutella) and the crime lord Wolf King (a sadly underutilized Jeff Goldblum) also under the Artemis’ roof. With the outside world tearing itself apart, the film becomes a claustrophobic exercise in tension building that doesn’t work out as you would hope due to some crucial script issues and a noticeably poor attempt to adapt the action to the narrow halls of the hotel setting.
While relying heavily on circumstance and contrivance to build this sense of tension, what makes Artemis more of a slough is its disproportionate handling of its extensive cast. While none of the cast can be accused of not pulling their weight (excluding perhaps an auto-piloting Goldblum who merely rehashes the cool-casual menace last seen in Ragnarok‘s Grandmaster) and several shining in their assigned places, the ensemble structure does the film no favors as only a handful of its characters have discernible arcs.
Several, like the motor-mouthed vulgarian Acapulco (Charlie Day) and the injured police officer Morgan (Jenny Slate), feel superfluous, unformed and primarily included to fortify the more plot-centric characters. The script desires this snapshot of the underworld it portrays and litters this hotel set with several of its denizens, but it doesn’t have the focus or follow-through to achieve this.
A cut of a lead character or two might have resulted in a much leaner, taut film, but unfortunately, even with its 90-minute runtime, Artemis struggles to keep itself on track. It seems to aim no higher than to be a techno-futurist gangster drama with some flashy surgery and stock characters to terribly wound one another within the confines of a relic to a past decadence. Pearce had a lightning-in-a-bottle concept here, one which was needing a more ambitious approach to the genre.
As a walls-closing-in-type espionage thriller, the originality of his idea sours to serve the need of some weak action scenes and a script that believes it is more snappy and fluid than it is. It is honestly baffling to me how Pearce could enlist Chung Chung-hoon (frequent Park Chan-wook collaborator who gifted the world the masterful cramped fight scene in Oldboy) as cinematographer, and still come out with scenes where most of the action is illegible or rushed. Everest (played by Dave Bautista in another appreciated but underutilized role) takes on a horde of assassins with a fire axe in an elevator lobby, and rather than being a standout genre scene of this or any other decade, it is rendered forgettable by messy execution.
The only moments Pearce’s script extends itself is when it attempts to have its pseudo-dystopia be a reflection of present society in a series of half-baked social comments. As one would expect in a world where the very essence of life water has become privatized, a couple of tame passing shots at an inaccessible healthcare system that benefits the rich and crooked are as conscious as Artemis can ever bring itself to be.
Far from a biting social critique or a morality play about criminal codes of honor, Artemis has a perfunctory ambition to be something more than the bottled action film it was clearly meant to be. You ask yourself what benefit does the 2400-year setting actually bring to the table, and the most logical answer always ends up being because it “looks cool.”
That’s all well and good, but I maintain that the bedrock of Hotel Artemis – this backroom, members-only medical facility for the criminal underworld – is a fantastic basis for a film or series but just wish Pearce could have risen to what his concept called for.