Heavily stylized, hyper-violent, original action films have experienced a revival lately. One could trace this resurgence back to 2012’s criminally ignored “Dredd”, but the genre’s most famous addition is the stellar “John Wick” franchise. Those movies are deliriously entertaining enough to guarantee copycats, and the trailers for “Hotel Artemis” suggest that the first of the imitators has arrived.
Indeed, the film’s premise—a hotel that’s secretly a hospital for criminals—seems more than inspired by The Continental, a hotel in “John Wick” that’s secretly a neutral zone for hired assassins. Both assist lawbreakers, both are regulated by a strict set of rules, and both are awash in the neon-soaked colors of a neo-noir world. Fortunately, writer/director Drew Pearce has more than enough original ideas for his directorial debut. Unfortunately, Pearce has too many original ideas to make it work.
The world building of “Hotel Artemis” begins straightaway. It’s 2028 and America’s wealth inequality has only worsened over the past decade: massive corporations have privatized water and the rich are forcing everyone else into an economic hellhole. Not to be outdone by their white-collar counterparts, criminal gangs have overtaken Los Angeles, and their rivalries are sucking the city dry. These tensions have reached their boiling points and spilled over into a citywide riot.
Which means business is booming for Jodie Foster! She plays an agoraphobic nurse who spends her life fixing up criminals in the Hotel Artemis. Well, at least the criminals with memberships. The hotel has several rules, personnel to enforce them, and a host of futuristic medical technologies that all get close-ups in a desperate bid to impress moviegoers with shiny gadgets.
“Hotel Artemis” fancies itself a social commentary here and there, but it doesn’t deliver anything cohesive on that front. Dialogue and news clips imply class clashes, but this never amounts to more than set dressing. Nurse Thomas points out America’s gun violence problem, but later on there’s a low-angle shot of a character posing and quipping dramatically to glorify a gun. The ill-conceived commentary is the weakest of Pearce’s goals.
He finds more success in the realm of hyper-violence, but again, Pearce plays it relatively safe. There are a couple of action set pieces that dazzle, but none have the shock and awe to leave the kind of impression that “John Wick” does. Cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon—who’s shot some of the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous movies in recent memory—ensures that the fights look entrancing regardless of how they play out.
When Pearce lets “Hotel Artemis” become a character drama, however, is when the movie transcends—and that has a lot to do with the cast. Jodie Foster is as magnificent here as she was in “The Silence of the Lambs”, and her tender performance anchors every scene she’s in. Surprisingly, Dave Bautista matches the legendary actress’ emotional resonance. The whole cast is outstanding: Sterling K. Brown bleeds familial dedication, Sofia Boutella emotes far more than usual, Jeff Goldblum is deliciously threatening as a feared crime lord, Jenny Slate gives spirited speeches, Charlie Day and Zachary Quinto are made of sleaze and menace—even singer/songwriter Father John Misty spices up the opening scene.
“Hotel Artemis” is worth a stay when these characters have time to interact. Otherwise, there’s just too much going on, though nothing is so bad that a refund is necessary. It’s a three-star hotel.