By Richard Roeper
Written and Directed by Drew Pearce
“And she said, ‘We are all just prisoners here, of our own device.”
— The Eagles, “Hotel California”
WELCOME to the Hotel Artemis.
Such a grubby place, such a bloody place.
The “hotel” in this near-future sci-fi thriller is actually a secret hospital/haven/hideout for criminals who must abide by a strict set of rules lest they be forever banned from this neutral-ground sanctuary — and if that sounds like a familiar setting, you must have seen the original John Wick (2014).
Not that first-time director and veteran screenwriter Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3, Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation) doesn’t come up with some bold and visually arresting and dark and wickedly funny touches of his own.
Pearce also goes deep and disturbing with the pop culture references. I mean, this is a movie that showcases the haunting 1960s hit “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas & the Papas, and also crowns its villain “The Wolf King,” which was the title of the first solo album by Mamas & the Papas frontman John Phillips, one of the most despicable monsters imaginable if the allegations by his daughter Mackenzie are true.
Hotel Artemis is set in 2028 Los Angeles, on a day when riots are breaking out all over the city over access to clean drinking water.
The madness explodes just as career criminal Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) and his crew are robbing an LA bank. (Apparently, these guys weren’t keeping up with the mood in the city via social media. They seem shocked when their ill-conceived bank robbery becomes ever more complicated due to power outages and, you know, cops in tanks already on the streets right outside the bank.)
After Waikiki’s reckless younger brother, Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry), is seriously wounded in a shoot-out with the police, Waikiki takes Honolulu to the only place in the city where the proprietor will harbor fugitives, never give up clients to the cops AND perform rough but potentially life-saving surgery if necessary.
Jodie Foster (in her first major role in a motion picture in some five years) is Jean Thomas, aka The Nurse, who has been running the hotel for some 22 years and has not stepped outside even once during that time. (Suffice to say The Nurse is haunted by the past.) Dave Bautista (in a strong performance) is the hulking bodyguard/enforcer/orderly known as Everest, who will do anything to protect the sanctity of the Hotel Artemis.
“Guests” at the Hotel Artemis are assigned names based on room themes. This is why Waikiki is known as Waikiki, and Sofia Boutella’s international assassin is called “Nice,” and Charlie Day’s loudmouthed millionaire is “Acapulco.” (The subplot involving Day’s character is annoying and irrelevant and adds nothing to the mix.)
With the help of 3-D printers and laser surgical innovations (and copious amounts of painkillers), the Nurse performs surgery on the wounded guests, patching them up so they can get back out there and do their criminal thing.
Meanwhile, Waikiki and Nice flirt with their past history, while Zachary Quinto’s vile and spineless Crosby Franklin races to the Hotel Artemis with his wounded father, the crime boss known as The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum), who runs the city.
Oh, and by then we’ve already met Jenny Slate’s Morgan, a wounded cop with a connection to The Nurse’s tragic past.
Foster and Goldblum are magnificent in their all-too-brief scenes together. (Although Goldblum has become such a cult favorite personality recently, he’s in danger of his persona overcoming his acting.) Boutella brings smoldering energy to her role as a nearly unstoppable assassin. Sterling K. Brown delivers strong work, even though he’s not playing the most well-defined of characters.
Positive points to the Hotel Artemis for trying to achieve something original, and for the quality of the cast.
But after that bloody boldness, the analogies and the life lessons and the moments of closure are all too predictable and familiar. — Chicago Sun-Times/Andrews McMeel Syndication
MTRCB Rating: R-16