There’s a riot taking over the streets of Los Angeles. The free-for-all chaos forces wealthy criminals hurt in the action to seek treatment and shelter at the Hotel Artemis, a crumbling, high-security med club run by a cynical nurse (Jodie Foster) and her towering orderly (Dave Bautista). Only on a night like tonight would an arms dealer, an assassin, a mob boss and several thieves bring this pandemonium inside the hotel all at once.
The feature debut of writer-director Drew Pearce, “Hotel Artemis” may feel as unruly as the L.A. of its dystopian future. Set in 2026, it’s a sci-fi action thriller channeling the influences of John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Escape from L.A.,” but not nearly as coherent.
The movie is not immune from some of the campier elements from the latter film. Too many subplots make the story feel cluttered and no more intelligent. There are narrative trapdoors built in for convenience throughout the plot – sometimes literally. When it looks as though Foster’s character – known, to most, only as the Nurse – and her orderly are stuck in a corner, there’s a surprise hidden elevator and a backdoor that gets them through pretty easily.
“Hotel Artemis” makes no attempt to hide its story’s obvious allusions to current events: The riots are set off by corporate privatization of water – a possible reference to the lack of clean water in Flint, Michigan, as Nestlé continues to bottle spring water just miles away. The arms dealer played by Charlie Day would wear a MAGA hat if the story were set in the present-day. He’s hostile to immigrants and poor people, chiding the impoverished Angelenos for not buying water, like he can. These references are almost as obvious as the film’s needle drops into such 1970s classics as “California Dreamin’.”
Foster’s harried performance as a woman with a traumatic past feels unnatural, almost comically overdone. The film reminds the audience of her loss frequently, draining those moments of emotional impact. It isn’t much of a stretch for Bautista to act intimidating, but it’s a shame the movie doesn’t trust him to do more.
Most of the other actors check in and out of “Hotel Artemis” quickly, leaving little impression beyond a single trait: Zachary Quinto is angry; Jenny Slate is a nice girl from the Nurse’s past. Sterling K. Brown doesn’t have enough to work with beyond loyalty. Jeff Goldblum’s (sadly brief) appearance serves as a much-needed shot of comic relief. And Sofia Boutella, fresh from “Atomic Blonde,” has a substantial role as an assassin everyone underestimates.
The production designers must have had a field day creating the steampunk/art deco setting. The crumbling hotel looks like Disney’s old Tower of Terror ride, sans cobwebs and coated in the warmer tones of aged bronze, peeling emerald-green wallpaper and shabby red carpeting.
For all its self-seriousness, “Hotel Artemis” is ultimately a silly story of bad guys, big egos and one good fight sequence. The concept of an exclusive hotel for rich hit men is not new (see: “John Wick”). Here, however, it gets saddled with so many rules and shallow relationships that it loses its charm. Fortunately, your stay in this “Hotel” will only be about 90 minutes long.