For a B-movie about a hospital-cum-hotel catering to criminals who can afford the pricey membership, Hotel Artemis never grants the establishment’s guests and hosts much reprieve. The Nurse (Jodie Foster) is always hobbling from one emergency to the next, with her massive orderly Everest (Dave Bautista) in tow carrying out various tasks. Meanwhile, the patients struggle against their treatments and boredoms, trying to find ways to cope with both. Or, in one particular case, figure out how to break the rules for the first time in the Artemis’ 22-year history.
In addition to Foster and Bautista, Hotel Artemis boasts an all-star ensemble cast that shines brightly whenever given the chance. Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us, Black Panther) plays a wounded bank robber assigned to the “Waikiki” room, while Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta) plays his wounded bank-robbing brother, put in “Honolulu.” Sofia Boutella continues her action streak (The Mummy, Atomic Blonde) as an international assassin assigned to “Nice,” and Charlie Day (Pacific Rim: Uprising) plays an annoying selfish arms dealer holed up in the “Acapulco” room.
Writer, producer, and first-time feature director Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3) begins the film with Waikiki and Honolulu’s job gone wrong, but Hotel Artemis is first and foremost a movie about its namesake. The emergency room itself becomes the central character of sorts, and almost everyone else in the cast comes and goes at its whim. Even so, the Nurse is the closest thing viewers get to a main human character, and with this being Foster’s first film role since Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium in 2013, she owns the spotlight every time it finds her.
Except, of course, whenever Bautista’s scene-stealing Everest gets to banter back-and-forth with her. Or whenever he has a moment to himself while disposing of non-members or fortifying the building against the massive riot outside in downtown Los Angeles. “Visiting hours are never!” he shouts at one point, remaining a strict enforcer of the hotel rules while faced with insurmountable odds. Speaking of rules, others include “no insulting the staff,” “no weapons allowed,” and “no killing other patients.” Despite their existence, however, both the patients and other visitors — like Jeff Goldblum’s delightful Wolf King and his son, played by Zachary Quinto — increasingly ignore them as the story progresses.
Between its near-futuristic setting in 2028 and its complex amalgam of genres, Hotel Artemis is an overstuffed popcorn flick that goes for the obvious laugh, nails nearly all of its action sequences, and doesn’t demand too much from its audience. More than anything, Pearce and the cast know exactly what kind of movie this is. Its convoluted attempts at world-building notwithstanding, this is one of the many things that saves it from being theatergoers’ second pick this weekend. The wonderful ensemble, especially Foster and Bautista, is another.
Its other saving grace is the fact that the constant plot and character movements are so rapid, Hotel Artemis manages to squeeze everything into a concise 97 minutes. Not a single moment of the film’s runtime is wasted. Everything that happens on screen is absolutely necessary to what happened before it, and what happens later. Detective Lester Freamon’s declaration that “all the pieces matter” in The Wire’s first season comes to mind. For even when a throwaway line of dialogue occurs, an unassuming prop is discarded or an apparently routine movement continues, the movie still isn’t being wasteful.
Therein lies Hotel Artemis’ biggest problem. Yes, the jam-packed runtime plays a pivotal role in making it an entertaining B-movie that, much like Ben Wheatley’s 2016 thriller Free Fire, makes it worth at least one viewing. And yes, this incredibly fast pace keeps everyone in the cast on their toes. Unfortunately, all of this happens at the expense of Pearce’s attempt to shoehorn a significant amount of world-building into the story.
The privatization of water, the corporate ownership of city infrastructure (including the police) reminiscent of Neal Stephenson’s cyberpunk classic Snow Crash, the existence of an international network of hospitals-for-criminals — all of this is peppered throughout. The thing is, some references are so fast that everyone watching Hotel Artemis might not understand what’s happening. And while return trips to the cinema may reward some after repeat viewings, most of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it background information feels more necessary than not to understanding the full breadth of the story Pearce is trying to tell.