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film review

Sterling K. Brown in Hotel Artemis.Matt Kennedy

  • Hotel Artemis
  • Written and directed by Drew Pearce
  • Starring Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown and Dave Bautista
  • Classification 14A
  • 93 minutes

Rating:

2 out of 4 stars

For anyone who watched the John Wick films and felt they needed fewer sophisticated Keanu Reeves action set-pieces and more totally wacky world-building about the intricacies of the criminal underworld, then Hotel Artemis is for you. Well, wait, don’t get too excited. A movie completely dedicated to the whys and wherefores of the domestic assassin industry does sound fascinating, doesn’t it? If executed (ahem) properly and with a sense of aesthetic flair, that is. Writer-director Drew Pearce’s Hotel Artemis, however, manages to make the most intriguingly bonkers premise a boring and flat exercise.

Much of Pearce’s failure rests with the limited budget he’s been given. His ambitions are clearly large here: Hotel Artemis takes place in a near-future Los Angeles, where a private corporation controls both the police force and access to California’s water, resulting in all sorts of chaos and wanton criminality. Yet this vision of large-scale societal destruction is only glimpsed briefly, either via cheap background VFX shots or that old standby, recycled television news clips and disembodied anchor telling us just how crazy the situation is. If only we could see such a thing!

Instead, the film’s focus is on the titular property, a hospital run by and for members of L.A.’s crime syndicates. Pearce (one of the screenwriters behind Iron Man 3 and the most recent Mission: Impossible) promises a world on fire, and delivers instead a slow-bleed chamber piece, confined to a half-dozen grimy and extremely darkly lit rooms that look leftover from whatever on-the-cheap series the Syfy network just cancelled for complete lack of interest.

To the film’s credit, it fills those few rooms with a murderer’s row of character actors. In one suite is Sterling K. Brown as a bank robber who has been trying to exit the game yet keeps getting pulled back in by his ne’er-do-well brother (Brian Tyree Henry, of FX’s Atlanta), who just took a bullet in the gut. Down the hall is Sofia Boutella’s stylish assassin, nursing a self-inflicted wound. Across from her is a weapons dealer played with typically weird charm by Charlie Day. Minding the madness is an orderly played by deadpan walking-slab-of-beef Dave Bautista. And overseeing it all is The Nurse, played by Jodie Foster with old-age makeup for no particular reason.

It is unclear how Pearce persuaded so many talented players to squeeze into the Hotel Artemis – and we haven’t even mentioned such late-stage arrivals as Jenny Slate, Zachary Quinto and living meme Jeff Goldblum. Perhaps the filmmaker has his own ties to Hollywood’s current crime lords, who’ve assembled damaging dossiers on all the talent. Or maybe the cast just wanted the opportunity to work with Foster, last seen trying to bring a sense of sensibility to 2013′s Elysium, another well-cast head-scratcher.

However Pearce assembled his guests, he gives them material that would make low-rent genre fiend Eric Roberts do a spit-take. F-bombs are mistaken for wit, a pop song-heavy soundtrack for ingenuity. The violence is endless and, worst, boring. Plot threads are introduced – including a highly sought-after pen swiped by Henry’s crook at the beginning of the film – and then forgotten about. Even the honour-among-thieves mythos Pearce tries to build, the film’s most interesting element by far, is confusing and contradictory. The Hotel Artemis is supposedly a secretive lair for wanted men and women looking to hang their heads low, yet there’s a giant and brightly lit marquee announcing the building in downtown L.A.?

There is a good movie yet to be made about the daily lives and codes of conduct among the criminal underclass. And luckily it opens in about a year from now, when the third John Wick movie hits theatres.