‘Hotel Artemis’ Combines Dystopia With B-Movie Fun
Some movies are entertaining because they are such odd bursts of creativity. “Hotel Artemis” is a strange, visually stylish creation that combines action with noir, dystopia with the gangster genre, and even some family drama. It might not be a masterpiece, but it is certainly not forgettable. In many ways it is a revival of that cherished old tradition of the Midnight Movie, where style and cheerful excess combine for a guilty pleasure experience. The great talents in this movie are just here to have fun.
It is the year 2028 and the worst riots in the history of Los Angeles have erupted, turning the city into one massive battleground. Opening footage shows the Griffith Observatory and other cherished landmarks roasting. While the chaos ensues, a group of bank robbers led by Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) attempt to pull off a heist but are soon cornered in a shoot-out. Waikiki and fellow bank robber Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry), are injured and make their way to the Hotel Artemis, where a secret clinic for criminals is run by The Nurse (Jodie Foster). To attain access one must be on the clinic’s membership slate. The Nurse’s backup is attendant and bouncer Everest (Dave Bautista). While Honolulu recovers, Waikiki meets the other two guests spending the night at the Artemis. Acapulco (Charlie Day) is an obnoxious arms dealer and Nice (Sofia Boutella) is an assassin for hire seeking a high-end target. The three try to get along but the stakes are raised when to the clinic arrives The Wolf King of Los Angeles (Jeff Goldblum), a ruthless kingpin who needs treatment, and is also on the prowl for some rare diamonds Waikiki just happens to have on him.
Part of the strange charm in “Hotel Artemis” is that everyone genuinely seems to be having a good time making it. The screenplay by first time director Drew Pearce, a writer on “Iron Man 3” and “Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation,” is a hybrid of goofy invention and energetic love of images. At a time when countless remakes and sequels premiere every week, this is a popcorn movie that is original fiction winking at its predecessors. The visual style is a neon noir combo of light and shadow, reminiscent of films like “Dark City,” but the action scenes are adrenaline stand offs similar to John Woo or the Wachowskis in their hay day. The interiors of the hotel itself are a gritty, gorgeous mix of modern and vintage. In the opening scene Foster gets out of bed and plays “California Dreaming” on an old record player as Pearce follows her down the corridors of the Artemis. The CGI has an alluring, subdued realism. Instead of giving us over the top futuristic vistas, Pearce feels at home in grimy interiors where curtains doubling as digital screens decorate rundown rooms.
The cast makes it all work because they bring great energy to their roles. Boutella is dressed in a flowing red dress, like a reject from a Bond movie, preferring to kick butt in this one. Foster is the scraggly nurse, but played with edgy warmth, by the end we actually feel for her a she walks off into a misty finale. Brown is the definition of coolness. As in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Bautista demonstrates he has great comedic timing, here bellowing quick one-liners before knocking someone out. Jeff Goldblum devours the screen as the Wolf King, playing the character to peak, masterful absurdity. These are all action movie stereotypes, but the movie is aware of this and the actors simply revel in playing them. You almost sense they made this to take a break from bigger projects attempting to pass ridiculous yarns with a straight face. Bad action movies have little style and get boring because they think they’re being serious. “Hotel Artemis” lovingly lingers over its absurdities with grindhouse gusto. Like Robert Rodriguez in his more inspired films, Pearce seeks only to entertain you while putting real effort into the candy. He knows even midnight movies have a bit of soul to them.
It must be said that sometimes guilty pleasures have surprising things to say. Pearce’s screenplay has fun mixing current events with his futuristic plot. In 1990s fashion something in the news becomes an obvious reference for “the future.” The L.A. riots break out because corporations are taking over the water, the police are commandos who could care less about beating you to a pulp. Nice and Acapulco have some interesting moral debates about arms dealing, and Charlie Day is a riot himself as he spews his lines condemning the have nots to their well-deserved demise.
But “Hotel Artemis” is not here for intellectual chatter, it wants to flaunt its look, its cast and make you root for the underdogs. If you do not like exercises in style where villains called the Wolf King seek diamonds from a guy named Waikiki, who happens to be in love with a beautiful assassin, then there might be a more serious movie playing down the hall. Everyone else, tune out and enjoy the ride.
“Hotel Artemis” releases June 8 in theaters nationwide.