Welcome to the Hotel Artemis, an establishment that wouldn’t have been out of place in The First Purge, even if that event was for one night only. Both movies are set in a violent near-ish future: this latest one is only ten years hence, where riots in Los Angeles because of a lack of water has brought the city’s privatized police force onto the streets to subdue the crowds. Anyway, they think fit.
The neon sign of the Artemis looks down over the increasingly shattered city from on-high, but this is no hotel as we know it. It’s more of a members’ club, a private hospital for criminals where they come to be patched up and sent back out as soon as possible. In charge is The Nurse (Jodie Foster), aided by her faithful medical orderly Everest (Dave Bautista), who is committed to enforcing the rules. But as the rioting reaches a peak, she has an influx of patients – an arms dealer, an assassin, two bank robbers – so there’s just one room left. And that goes to the city’s crime boss, who has a personal interest in the Artemis.
Given that the “guests” are all paying to stay there, the treatment can be bit rough – little or no time for anesthetics, unless absolutely necessary – although it is advanced. One of them needs a new liver and gets a 3-D printed one, produced before our eyes. Not that The Nurse is unsympathetic, but the pressure of this especially busy night means she has to be practical, and she hides behind a series of clipped, pithy epithets. Perhaps calling this is hospital is overstating things. It’s more a high-class emergency room, with all that entails. Like the cushion with the large blood stain on one side: she turns it over to hide the mark. The hospital corridors are gloomy and poorly lit and the main entrance is hardly hospitable (excuse the pun). It does the job.
Drew Pearce writes and also makes his directorial debut with an idea full of promise and no little courage. Confining the bulk of the action to the one location – the outside world doesn’t get much of a look-in – and limiting the number of characters makes for a reasonably taut storyline with a classical shape. But the residents of the Artemis don’t all grab – or keep – our attention. The Nurse (she does have a name, as we find out) has a sad past and it’s taken a toll on her present, panic attacks and drink included. It’s a backstory that makes her perhaps the most satisfying character in the line-up and Foster gives her more than enough humanity to offset those one-liners. Dave Bautista breathes life into what, on the face of it, isn’t the most promising of roles, her hulk of a sidekick. But some of the criminals are more two dimensional – certainly Charlie Day’s arms dealer – and the biggest disappointment comes in the shape of Jeff Goldblum as the crime boss. He just plays Goldblum: no great surprise, admittedly, because that’s his specialty of late. Yet this isn’t a role where he’s meant to provide the light relief.
Pearce could have taken it even further. An even smaller, better developed clutch of main characters would have made the film leaner, more disciplined and the tension levels would have soared. As it is, they plateau somewhere in the middle and the gang fronted by Goldblum’s weakling son, played by Zachary Quinto, are little more than an unwelcome distraction. The feeling that Pearce, as both director and writer, has perhaps bitten off more than he can chew with this idea, good though it is, is inescapable.
Hotel Artemis certainly has its moments and there’s enough of them to keep you interested. But the consistency it needs isn’t there, in terms of the plot and what it wants to say. It’s over-ambitious, although if Pearce’s next offering as a director lives up to the promise of this, his first film, it should be worth waiting for.
Freda Cooper | [rating=3]
Action, Thriller, Sci-Fi | 15 | UK, 20 July (2018) | Warner Brothers | Dir. Drew Pearce| Jodie Foster, Dave Bautista, Sterling K Brown, Sofia Boutella, Charlie Day, Zachary Quinto and Jeff Goldblum.