James Cole Clay // Film Critic
In a summer dominated by three tentpoles (and even more on the way), the action genre allows for a little counter programming that offers something subversive. We have a long way to go, but HOTEL ARTEMIS is the sleeper of the season. Drew Pearce’s debut as a director (he previously wrote scripts like IRON MAN 3 and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION) provides a highly stylized and satisfying look at a ludicrous premise.
Bolstering a killer ensemble cast including Jodie Foster (her first role in five years), Sterling K. Brown, Dave Bautista, Sophia Boutella, Charlie Day and the always eccentric, everybody’s favorite charming weirdo, Jeff Goldblum.
HOTEL ARTEMIS discovers a sprawling story within the confines of (nearly) one location with humor, action and violence that will please audiences. Riffing off a premise that was used sparingly in JOHN WICK, HOTEL ARTEMIS introduces us to the Nurse (Foster), an agoraphobic M.D. who runs a hospital for the criminals of Los Angeles’ underbelly. Like any self-respecting genre film, there’s a set of rules: each patient has to pay their dues to become a member, you can’t kill any other patients, and you can’t talk about “the hotel.” The Nurse is accompanied by her orderly, Everest (Bautista), a man who insists he’s a healthcare professional and acts as the muscle of the facility. Together they’re hiding from the world during a massive riot in L.A. along with two brothers Sherman (Brown) and his bleeding brother Lev (Brian Tyree Henry), a French assassin (Boutella) and a walking bucket of toxic masculinity (Day). Oh, and the Wolf King (Goldblum), L.A.’s crime lord and primary investor of the Artemis.Put all these personalities together and throw in a riot, some helicopters and few bullet wounds, mix em’ all together and you’ve got yourself a movie.
An ensemble action film is an art lost on the older days of cinema. The likes of Quentin Tarantino and John Carpenter have pulled it off, but many other have tried and failed. Pearce boasts himself as an adequate director whose able to find little quirks from his characters to keep the plot moving, while also giving us just enough of a taste to lead us into the next scene. But where he shines best is putting together this group of actors. Foster is chewing every inch of the scenery gussied up in old age makeup and a slight hunch that brings the Nurse to life. She bounces off of Bautista, who finds heart and humor in his pulpy dialogue. The duo are consummate professionals even in the face of L.A.’s most dangerous figures.
HOTEL ARTEMIS is at its best when it’s enjoying the dynamics of its absurd premise. Just existing in this world is enough to bring thrills, but when the story becomes fixated on uncovering truths about its characters and emotional payoffs we begin to stumble. Pearce delivers on the action front, even if it doesn’t live up to recent action set pieces. There’s an air of confidence that allows the film to be convincing.
Even though it ends in a whisper, the film’s characters leave their mark on the narrative, mainly because the cast works so well together. This isn’t a project that’s going to blow any doors down, but it’s a ray of sunshine in a world filled with cynicism. This time, we’re given a burst of fun that’s down and dirty.
HOTEL ARTEMIS opens nationwide on Friday, June 8.