" Guess who the world doesn’t revolve around? You. "
— Nicky Katt, Full Frontal

MRQE Top Critic

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Hotel Artemis is a clever, subversive look at the flip side of action movies.

California Dreamin’

Nice (Sofia Boutella) talks shop with the nurse (Jodie Foster)
Nice (Sofia Boutella) talks shop with the nurse (Jodie Foster)

It’s all about one really, really bad night at the Hotel Artemis in June 2028.

Los Angeles has devolved into a war zone and riots are spreading like wildfire across the city. This is a tight, lean, mean 93-minute movie machine and the scenario is quickly set, devoting little time to diving into the details of the madness. One TV news headline, though, references problems surrounding the privatization of water and some people are making plans to head south – to the wall.

The hotel’s located in downtown Los Angeles and staying there requires a membership. It’s not that it’s a ritzy resort on par with an opulent Las Vegas getaway, far from it, but membership has its privileges. Namely, medical care.

And there are some rules to follow while staying at the Artemis. Smoking? Go for it. But don’t kill the other guests, also known as patients. No guns are allowed, and neither are cops. As for your back story, the hard-life stories you’ve got to tell? Keep them to yourself. What happens outside must stay outside.

Yeah. This is no ordinary hotel. It caters to society’s underbelly. Criminals, wounded in action, seek refuge and recovery in Hotel Artemis. The arrangements sound a little familiar, like those surrounding the Hotel Continental in the John Wick movies. Granted, the Continental operates under much better management and a bigger budget, serving a higher-class of kingpin, but it’s rather fun to think of the Artemis operating in the same movie world as Wick.

It’s that flip side to the action movie; it’s where the players go between their crimes and misadventures. It’s where there’s supposed to be no action.

Helpless

At the center of this grim setting is one dedicated nurse. Jodie Foster (Inside Man) is all-in and delivers a truly remarkable performance as she creates a fully-developed character. The nurse has her tics; she taps her right foot in an antsy sort of way while waiting for the elevator and she has a particular gait in her step as she hustles through the hotel’s hallways. Her graying hair is held in place with an old hairpin, her eyeglasses hang around her neck on a chain. Makeup? None. This is not a vanity project, this is a truly creative work that puts Foster right at the top of her game.

This poor nurse — who has a troubled past she can’t share in accordance with the hotel’s rules — is there to witness it all on that fateful June night, as the hotel’s rules, one by one, are thrown by the wayside while clashes of interests send the nurse to some dark interior places.

Among the guests that cataclysmic night is a French contract killer, staying in the Nice suite (Sofia Boutella, Atomic Blonde); she’s there while completing a mission. There’s also a pair of brothers, dubbed Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown, Black Panther) and Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry, TV’s Atlanta); Honolulu’s in need of serious medical care following a botched robbery. Acapulco (Charlie Day, Horrible Bosses) is a loud mouth thug looking to evacuate the area.

And then there’s the guy who owns Los Angeles. The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park). At the Artemis, he’s identified as Patient 0001. His path has crossed with the nurse before and that night in June will bring their relationship to a certain kind of closure.

Put them all together in one place at the same time and it’s a powder keg ready to go boom. Watching that keg heat up is part of the fun. There’s a moment when one patient cuts the power in order to fulfill a personal goal and that’s when it all goes to heck with shockwaves of repercussions overlapping and undercutting the various guests, patients, criminals — whichever term is preferred.

The Dark Night

Purely from a raw filmmaking perspective, there’s a lot to admire in Hotel Artemis. While it doesn’t feature the epic, grand-scale action set pieces of the John Wick series or Atomic Blonde, it fits into that same mold of rethinking what an action movie can be.

Credit goes to writer/director Drew Pearce for bringing this vision to the screen. Pearce, making his feature directorial debut, proves he’s got the chops for it, building on his writing credits for Iron Man 3 and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation to explore this new noir.

But there are a couple challenges for visitors to the movie Hotel Artemis. There are two characters who are painfully annoying. One is Acapulco; it’s Charlie Day playing the same loud character he’s played in the Pacific Rim movies — where he’s also annoying. When he crosses paths with Nice, there’s a fervent desire to see her take him out straight away. But, yeah, that’s against the rules.

The other one is a guy named Crosby Franklin, also known as the Wolf King’s son. Zachary Quinto (Star Trek) is put in the unfortunate position of portraying, essentially, a “legacy” bad boy. It’s kind of like a legacy fraternity brother; they get into the parties because Dad was a member. Same for Crosby. He’s much less than his dad; he’s loud, he’s spoiled. It’d be nice if Nice took care of him as well.

So, on the one hand, these guys are annoying. But, on the other hand, it’s pretty clear they’re annoying by design as the natural order of things holds court over these prisoners of their own devices, to sling in a Hotel California lyric.

As for the Wolf King himself, Goldblum is an odd choice; he doesn’t play bad well — he’s more creepy than evil. But, taken as a spin on the upside-down world of the Artemis, his character works. And, thankfully, Goldblum drops most of his usual shtick in favor of fitting in with this dark night.