It’s an intriguing premise.
A hotel-turned-emergency-room and armored fortress tucked in the riot-torn streets of downtown Los Angeles...ten years in the future that serves the super wealthy, enormously evil criminals.
Only paying members are allowed inside, and identities are kept anonymous. Patients are called by the suite’s name they are occupying (all of which are cities of the world), and guests are forbidden from hurting or killing each other, a major perk if you’re, well, you know… in the business of killing people.
The Nurse (Jodie Foster), a wobbly-footed agoraphobic tormented by the death of her son, runs the joint. She’s a stickler for the rules and relies on her orderly Everest (Dave Bautista) to assist in the work she physically cannot complete, mainly going outside and picking people up. By 2028 there is apparently very little need for doctors who have been replaced by robots that pick bullets from abdomens and use 3-D printers to replicate vital organs. The Nurse need only press a few buttons and administer a few shots, and her job is done.
On this night, rioters are ravaging the city, destroying everything and everyone in their path. Hotel Artemis is one of the few places of safe harbor for those who can afford it. Like Acapulco (Charlie Day), a smart-mouthed, chauvinistic crook with an injury to his face and a mouth that doesn’t stop spewing insults. Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) and his brother Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry) retreat to Hotel Artemis following a botched bank robbery. Nice (Sofia Boutella) is a sexy, sultry but dangerous assassin with a self-inflicted wound and dubious intentions.
The perfect storm is brewing, like the gods convened and decided to rain trouble on poor Nurse. With the firestorm raging outside, a nearly full house of patients to tend to and a mysterious V.I.P. (Jeff Goldblum) and his hot-headed son (Zachary Quinto) en route, Hotel Artemis is at capacity with twists, turns and nonstop thrills.
As screenwriter Drew Pearce’s directorial debut, it’s a strange little film that, aesthetically speaking, oscillates frequently between a Wes Anderson movie and Roland Emmerich-esque high concept action-adventure. The set production and details are exquisite, elevating the film a tier above what the actual story lends itself to be. No doorknob is left unturned, no wire unexplained. The technology employed is also highly realistic, accounting for the audience’s suspension of disbelief and convincing us that maybe the filmmakers do know exactly what they’re doing.
But then something happens – like the sudden, random and ill-fitting appearance of Jenny Slate as a person from the Nurse’s past – and you realize the film isn’t perfectly conceived or even mildly cohesive. Slate’s subplot in particular adds nothing to the story and feels, quite honestly, like a time-killer, helping pump up the runtime to hit the ninety-minute mark.
But that’s certainly not the only problem plaguing the film. The world it builds, though beautiful and convincing at times, ultimately falls as flat and one-dimensional as Dave Bautista’s famously uniform intonation. The performances are sincere, but disconnected. The plot spirals quickly away from the heart of the story and down certain artificial avenues that cause certain characters to veer sharply, absurdly and completely implausibly away from their nature.
Despite the numerous big names that litter the end credits and in spite of Brown’s valiantly earnest performance, it’s the female leads, Foster and Boutella, who keep the film afloat. Boutella is a stunt stunner, a stone-cold criminal vixen with the looks and swagger that provide the character her credibility. In her first appearance onscreen since 2013, Foster commits to the Nurse. Her body language and delivery is impeccable, creating a uniquely intriguing character that charms the screen and gives the film its most authentic performance.
In spite of all of this, even during Quinto’s painfully hollow screen time, I very much wanted to like this film, and at times I thought I did. For a while, the visuals and certain performances sugarcoated and pacified the feeling I ultimately left the theater mulling over: a biting sense of disappointment.