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Hotel Artemis

Posted June 12, 2018 By Curiosity Inc.

The timing really screwed me over tonight, folks.

Sure, I could’ve seen Ocean’s 8, the new heist thriller spin-off I’ve heard so many wonderful things about. But alas, that wasn’t how my schedule worked out. So here I am playing a neat little game of “How the hell did this go wrong?” with Hotel Artemis. For the uninitiated, it’s about a safehouse where hardened criminals can go for some R&R, safe in the knowledge that violence is strictly forbidden on the premises.

Yes, there is an upcoming John Wick spinoff about The Continental. No, this isn’t it. And honestly, that writer/director Drew Pearce (here making his feature directorial debut) didn’t try to make a lazy John Wick knockoff is at once the best and worst thing I can say about this picture.

To start with, the movie takes place in the year 2028. That’s just far enough into the future to provide a modern and grounded feel with a satisfying sci-fi edge. The execution gives the movie its own unique feel, and I appreciate that. Moreover, this is set in a dystopian near-future in which water and law enforcement are totally privatized, and the entire movie takes place in a glorified ER where top-of-the-line health care is provided to the rare few criminals who can pay for membership. Thusly, the movie offers a bit of subtle social commentary that’s present enough to make a statement without making a distraction. Very clever.

And last but not least, the privatization of life-sustaining infrastructure provides a decent reason for the worst riots in L.A. (which is really fucking saying something, as I’m sure you know). In turn, this raises the stakes for the movie as a whole and gives a plausible reason for why the Hotel Artemis is so busy on this particular night.

This brings us to the Hotel Artemis itself, which certainly looks very different from The Continental. Like pretty much everything else in John Wick’s orbit, The Continental has a distinctly high-class vibe, very clearly built by the wealthiest and most powerful for those whom they could afford to employ as troubleshooters. It’s easy to picture anyone living there comfortably for as long as they can pay the room fee.

By contrast, Hotel Artemis looks like a piece of old Los Angeles that refuses to go away. It feels timeless and built to last (in a way that The Continental never did), which seems fitting for a place that routinely houses and protects the most dangerous maniacs in SoCal. Additionally, it feels like a place of last resort, where nobody would ever choose to go if they could be somewhere else. It helps that the rules are considerably more intricate and strictly enforced than the one rule of The Continental, yet the rules here are made clear to us in a fluid and organic way as the plot unfolds, rather than told in a massive exposition dump.

Then we have the Nurse who runs the establishment. (Yes, Jodie Foster’s character does have a real name, but we’ll call her The Nurse.) This is a badass character from her very first scene, when she keeps on giving a ton of snark for every ounce of shit she gets. She’s a true professional who’s damn good at her job, she works with top-of-the-line future surgical tech that’s fascinating to watch, and she’s got enough hardened experience that you know she’s seen worse no matter how bad things get. And the cherry on top is that the Nurse is an agoraphobe who never leaves the Hotel Artemis. It’s an intriguing little quirk at first, but it’s used to make a sweet thematic point near the end. The Nurse is a fantastic character and Foster is a joy to watch.

The bad news is that a great deal of screen time is spent on The Nurse’s tragic backstory, with exposition to explain how and why she came to be the manager of this high-end criminal hospital. I didn’t care. I’m sorry, but I never remotely cared about learning how this character got to be awesome, especially when it took so much time away from seeing her actually be awesome.

Aside from her, the lion’s share of screen time and development goes to Sterling K. Brown as the character code-named Waikiki. (That’s presumably a rule of the hotel, by the way: No names. Everyone refers to themselves and each other by the name of their suite.) Waikiki and his brother (Honolulu, played by Brian Tyree Henry) are introduced as part of a laughably incompetent bank heist, which sadly costs the movie quite a few points in its opening scene. Honolulu is a useless dumbass, he knows he’s a useless dumbass, everyone knows that he’s a useless dumbass, and yet the innate urge to keep his brother safe is pretty much the only motivation Waikiki gets for anything he does.

So much screen time given to Waikiki, and all we ever really learn about him is that he wants to protect a brother we have zero reason to give two shits about. That’s not nearly enough, and it’s still more than anyone else in the cast gets. Here, let’s run down the list.

  • Sofia Boutella kicks ass and she lights up the screen with every second I’ve ever seen of her in any film. She deserves so much better than the paper-thin and thankless roles she keeps getting.
  • Charlie Day is so annoying and useless I kept begging for his character to get killed off.
  • Dave Bautista is basically playing himself at this point.
  • Jenny Slate is always a welcome presence, but she’s little more than a prop here.
  • Zachary Quinto does nothing but chew the scenery, which is at least fun to watch.
  • Jeff Goldblum gets maybe five minutes of screen time, but damned if he doesn’t milk every second for all it’s worth. At least his character makes for an effective offscreen presence.

As you might have guessed from the stock characters and their subpar development, the plot is broken. There’s something like half a dozen different storylines all jumbled together, most of which are entirely useless or left unresolved. Even worse, the different storylines are ineptly stitched together in a way that totally kills the pacing, which is anathema to any action film.

But that brings me to the biggest problem with this movie: It’s not an action film. It’s got the premise and the setting for an action film, it’s got the characters and the cast for an action film, and it opens with a motherfucking bank heist to get us in the mood for an action film, but it’s not an action film.

There’s the opening bank heist, the chaotic climax, a couple of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them stunt scenes apiece for Bautista and Boutella, and that’s it. All we get are a few fleeting action scenes separated by massive stretches of empty plot. We’ve got a crew of badasses stuck in a place where they’re prohibited from fighting, and the filmmakers couldn’t for the life of them find a way to make that interesting. The best it can do is string us along with a bunch of interconnecting subplots and hope we’ll be kept in suspense to see how they’ll all affect each other. Except the suspense falls flat because the payoffs are either predictable or non-existent, because only so much intrigue can be properly set up in a 90-minute runtime (though it seriously felt like twice that long), and because it’s nowhere near as interesting as the balls-to-the-wall action this movie was so clearly built for!

Hotel Artemis has a ton of great world-building wasted on a useless story. It has a phenomenal cast wasted on wretched characters. It’s a potentially great action movie that tries and fails to be a dramatic crime thriller. Basically, the script from veteran blockbuster screenwriter Drew Pearce was wasted on the inadequate newbie director Drew Pearce.

I almost wish it had put more effort into being a John Wick ripoff, because a straightforward action movie in the Leitch/Stahelski style set in this near-future dystopia could have been something really exciting. As it is, the movie is a tragic waste of talent and potential. Not recommended.