With a catchy name and a stacked cast of genre favorites, it doesn't take much to sell Hotel Artemis as a concept: a not-too-distant future, a secret hospital for criminals drenched in a sort of neo-Art Nouveau aesthetic that feels almost Blade Runner in nature. That coupled with a killer (and, some would argue, almost too subtle) promotional campaign including character posters modeled after classics like The Long Goodbye, American Gigolo and To Live and Die in L.A., Hotel Artemis has all the makings of a cult classic waiting to happen.
The question is: does it live up its own potential?
The answer is... well, sort of.
The directorial debut for writer-director Drew Pearce, whose most notable screenwriting credit is Iron Man 3, Hotel Artemis suffers right off the bat from trying to do too much at once. It's not hard to see where the compulsion came from, however, considering the cast includes the likes of franchise breakouts like Sterling K. Brown, Jodie Foster, Dave Bautista, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum and Charlie Day.
Things kick off with Sterling K. Brown's "Waikiki" (again, a codename) botching a robbery with his brother (Brian Tyree Henry) who is wounded in the process. They wind up at the Artemis, an exclusive members-only hospital run by Foster and her hulking orderly, Everest (Bautista) as Los Angeles descends into riotous chaos outside. From there, things start to get muddled. We're introduced rapid-fire to a cast of characters populating the Artemis from Boutella's French-speaking "Nice," an assassin to Day's skeezy "Acapulco," an arms dealer, both of which seem to have their own stakes in just how the night proceeds.
Ostensibly Foster's character, "The Nurse" as she's codenamed, is the lead here but that isn't exactly true -- Hotel Artemis never quite decides where it wants to put the weight of the narrative. Brown and Foster share the bulk of the focus in the first act, but as momentum begins to build and plot threads begin to converge, it becomes less and less clear just who is the protagonist and who's on whose side. It gets even more confusing with a wounded cop, Morgan (Jenny Slate) shows up right before the arrival of an infamous crime lord known as The Wolf King (Goldblum) and his entourage, making for a variable Russian Roulette of exposition and backstory framing each and every big action set piece.
Speaking of action set pieces -- there are surprisingly few of them. For a movie that is quite clearly going for the action/sci-fi/thriller niche, there wasn't actually all that much action to go around. The general lack thereof does eventually build into some pretty satisfying Old Boy-flavored fight scenes that gleefully showcase both Boutella and Bautista's physicality, specifically, but still. Hotel Artemis isn't particularly interested in wowing viewers with stunts and visual effects.
That said, it's certainly never boring. What it lacks in asses-kicked-per-minute, it makes up for in a cast with charm and chemistry to spare. Foster's dry humor and Bautista's earnest quipping coupled with Brown being Brown, Goldblum being Goldblum and Day being Day made it never feel like the movie was hitting a lull, even when in retrospect there were lulls aplenty. Fortunately, there are also laugh out loud moments and beautifully shot scenes, all set within a world that was clearly very lovingly rendered by everyone involved.
It might not be the next John Wick or the next Dredd in terms of igniting an action franchise or a cult fan base, but it certainly has fun in the space it's created. The plot may be a bit bloated and unfocused but it's hard to begrudge it its narrative transgressions when it's clearly having such a great time. If you're looking for a high-concept head-scratcher, this probably won't be your thing. But if you're interested in a way to happily chomp down some popcorn and watch a laundry list of your favorite actors in a lo-fi semi-dystopian romp, you could definitely do worse than Hotel Artemis.
Directed by Drew Pearce, Hotel Artemis is in theaters on June 8.