I had only one expectation for Drew Pearce’s directorial debut, Hotel Artemis. I wanted to have fun experiencing the amazing, star-studded ensemble cast play off one another. Unfortunately, it was never met. Instead, Hotel Artemis packs an unnecessarily convoluted narrative, unrealized world-building for a banal backdrop, and poor allocation of screen time, which results in a film that feels like a melting pot of half-baked concepts and ideas. The conclusion to the action romp loses any steam the movie had going for it, leaving you with a feeling of unfulfillment.
There is a slight amount of praise awarded for its solid performances and imaginative aesthetics (even if they never go far enough), but as it stands, this one-location action flick can never quite settle on what narrative footing, tone, or message it wants to leave us with. For a film that wastes so much time with feeding its audience expositional dialogue–from one-note characters about their motivation–the lack of understanding and control of its own world and setting is quite the accomplishment in itself. An anti-masterclass in “show don’t tell”.
Set in a chaotic, riot-driven futuristic Los Angeles, Hotel Artemis opens on Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) and his brother Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry) getting injured after a raid. They head towards Hotel Artemis, a secret hotel/emergency room hideout for criminals run by a night nurse, Jean Thomas (Jodie Foster) and her hand Everest (Dave Bautista). Tensions arise as Mrs. Thomas must treat the important boss of L.A., The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) while dealing with a reminder of her past in the form of an injured family friend, Morgan (Jenny Slate). Also checking in for the night, Nice (Sofia Boutella), a French woman with her own agenda, and a shady conman Acapulco (Charlie Day) have their own quarrels in the meantime.
“It’s a busy night at the Artemis,” the nurse and her hand remind us constantly throughout the film. Busy, clearly becomes a valid word to describe this story. As the first act of the film rolls by, introducing us to characters and jumping from here to there, it becomes very evident that this film could not decide its focus, and as a result, none of these characters feel fleshed out enough to be interesting in anything past small doses. Predictable backstories, rushed relationships, and vague motivations are written in the characters that work the best, while the rest of the cast get only passing moments and are wasted all too quickly for their caliber of talent. There’s a real lack of focus with these characters, no thematic element tying them all together and no moment where they are all present to play off one another.
It’s a real shame too because nearly every actor of this heavenly ensemble brought their natural talent to breathe some life into this screenplay. The obvious standouts were Dave Bautista (who is constantly showing us he can bring the heart into any of his projects), Jodie Foster, and Sterling K. Brown. While underdeveloped as characters, all three of these performers were a blast to watch and kept me invested in their screen time. Boutella manages to charm even with her dry writing, she is dedicated one action sequence to shine and make me wish she had a bigger role in Atomic Blonde. Jeff Goldblum is perfectly Jeff Goldblum-y, but leaves so soon to feel like a glorified cameo. Jenny Slate was painfully underwritten and felt like excess. Charlie Day and Zachary Quinto only seem to exist to give us an illusion of tension in the last act, but ultimately, both fell short of doing so, their characters being very disconnected and inconsequential to the rest of the film.
Then there’s the shoddy world-building. The backdrop of a politically charged rioting Los Angeles vs. the Police force feels like set decoration for the sake of seeming topical. There’s no real relevance for these riots in the film’s plot or its characters, therefore it is rendered trivial and incompetent. Any message Hotel Artemis was trying to send was lost in translation due to its unwillingness to show us why society fell apart and what reason do our characters feel wrapped up in what they’re doing. Is this real life parallelism for the sake of appearing relevant or just a superficial examination of society from an outsider who doesn’t need to deal with these problems? This reached The Purge levels of thematic coherence. “We live in a society,” indeed.
Hotel Artemis doesn’t please as an ensemble action flick, it doesn’t do anything remotely clever or interesting with its own premise or world, and it doesn’t conclude with any much-needed closure to give this hodgepodge of ideas a connective tissue. An amazing cast simply can’t hide a film’s inconsistency and lack of distinct directorial vision. It actively made me question who this film was even for. You have plenty of options this upcoming weekend at the movies, I suggest looking elsewhere.