HOTEL ARTEMIS: Featured

HOTEL ARTEMIS feels so much like an elevator pitch, I’d be stunned if the premise document did not include the phrase “the hotel from JOHN WICK meets the riot from STRANGE DAYS meets ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13.”

When people discuss elevator pitches, they tend to express them either as “Blank meet Blank” or “Blank of a Blank.” For instance, “DIE HARD on a bus” might be better known to you as SPEED. Or AND THEN THERE WERE NONE meets SILENCE OF THE LAMBS became MINDHUNTERS. The good ones (SPEED) elevate the material enough that it sheds the pitch. The bad ones (MINDHUNTERS) so underperform they drag the pitch down.

The question is which is HOTEL ARTEMIS? Did it live above its pitch, up to its pitch, or drag the whole thing down?

HOTEL ARTEMIS: The Wolf King arrives
Jeff Goldblum, Zachary Quinto, and Jodie Foster pause a moment to discuss terms in a scene from HOTEL ARTEMIS. (Courtesy of Global Road Entertainment)

The Idea Behind HOTEL ARTEMIS

A fast-moving riot has begun to sweep across Los Angeles. Beginning in the low socioeconomic status areas of the city, the wave is pushing, seemingly unstoppable, towards downtown. The corporate privatization of formerly public water (I’m looking at you, Nestlé) has set off the population. The private police force faces off against the citizens, pulling all its patrols to quell the riot. Meanwhile, a gang led by two brothers we’ll come to know as Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) and Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry) attempts to use the chaos to their advantage. They intercept the gardeners, maids, and other home service workers before they can check their rich employer’s cash and goods into safety deposit boxes.

However, Honolulu jumps the gun—pun mostly unintentional—and opens fire on riot cops rather than hiding. This necessitates a trip to the Hotel Artemis, a crumbling classic hotel converted to a hospital for wounded criminals.

As run by the Nurse (Jodie Foster) with support from Everest (Dave Bautista), Artemis only allows in dues-paying crooks. With the exception of a couple of crimes, it makes no moral judgments about your character.

As the riots intensify and draw closer, Waikiki and Honolulu get hustled in. Already there, recovering, are the assassin Nice—as in France—(Sofia Boutella) and the arms dealer Acapulco (Charlie Day).

With the power flickering on and off, the Nurse does her best to keep all the plates spinning. The job grows more complex as Morgan (Jenny Slate)—a cop from the Nurse’s time before the Hotel—and the Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) arrive looking for aid. Complications continue to ensue.

HOTEL ARTEMIS: Waikiki
Sterling K. Brown has that “freeze you in your tracks” look in HOTEL ARTEMIS. (Courtesy of Global Road Entertainment)

The Writing

Writer-Director Drew Pearce’s script is pretty much exactly what you would expect it to be. Hard-boiled and filled with noble tough guys like Waikiki and ignoble cowards like Acapulco. They bristle and flirt with one another, often in brusque tones. At others, they offer soliloquies about a life of crime, trying to go straight, the honor of the criminal class, and so on.

Pearce isn’t reinventing the wheel here, but it is pulp done well.

There is one exception and that’s the Nurse’s backstory. While cliché-riddled, Pearce’s script nicely carves out the time to make her the stealth lead. Additionally, the script builds her tragic backstory well. It starts with the smallest of hints and increasingly offers small tantalizing details every time the action returns to her.

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Casting the Leads of HOTEL ARTEMIS

One thing Sterling K. Brown can undeniably do is turn up the charisma. While his role as older brother Waikiki lacks a lot of the meaty dramatics of his work in AMERICAN CRIME STORY and THIS IS US, he still manages to find a few morsels to bring forth. His vacillation between love and resentment toward his screw-up younger brother is the work of small moments that bubble over. His chemistry with apparent ex Nice crackles. It is great to see Brown blowing up with multiple roles this year and delivering on his talent.

As noted above, Foster has the most emotional role with a tragic past and a present marked by agoraphobia and alcoholism. Sporting decent old age makeup and moving in a quick shuffle, she wears the 70 years of the character realistically. She finds balance in a character that could’ve easily tipped into weak or too all-business bland.

Her individual work is no surprise—we all know Foster is a pro. However, the nice surprise is her easy chemistry with Bautista which is both friendly and motherly. They feel like old co-workers with in-jokes and unspoken loyalties.

HOTEL ARTEMIS: Nice
Sofia Boutella has got a look, too, in a scene from HOTEL ARTEMIS. (Courtesy of Global Road Entertainment)

Casting the Rest of the HOTEL ARTEMIS Call Sheet

Boutella has been one of the joys of the past five years, delivering increasingly complex performances with each role. This one is not as deep as her work in ATOMIC BLONDE but calls upon a bigger range of emotions. It has been a good discovery to see that her acting chops are growing to meet her impressive physical skills.

Dwayne Johnson and John Cena might grab the bigger headlines amongst recent WWE stars turned actors. However, Bautista has carved out a nice niche for himself as a supporting actor. Much like Boutella, this role doesn’t ask him for as much depth as his best performance—in BLADE RUNNER 2049 — but asks for a more sustained range.

I like that Day went for it with his heavily Bronx accented arms dealer. I just don’t know if he got there. The script never seems to have a great idea of who the character is. Thus, Day’s enthusiasm can only propel the role so far. Based on it though, I would like to see Day in a more substantial villain role in the future.

Jeff Goldblum ditches the over the top giddiness of his THOR: RAGNAROK role for a low smoky purr. It is the kind of small role that you love to see a big actor in. Goldblum just delivers, even with only six lines and a brief drugged-up speech about making a deal with the devil.

Zachary Quinto, as the Wolf King’s son, is also worth a note as he takes his Glenn Greenwald and turns up the sniveling factor by about 35.

HOTEL ARTEMIS: Everest
And you just know, in HOTEL ARTEMIS, Dave Bautista has a look as well. (Courtesy of Global Road Entertainment)

Filming

I usually bag on directors for creating a poor sense of geography. However, Pearce does it with purpose here. You aren’t meant to understand the layout of the hotel at first with its nondescript hallways, secret passages, and multiple entrances and exits. As Waikiki begins to learn the layout better, we increase our understanding as well.

Pearce, directing his first feature, likes to highlight small details to reveal bigger things about his characters. For instance, the Nurse’s feet never stop moving, even while she is standing still, hinting at her anxiety. Everest proudly displays his Artemis badge despite, seemingly, it not being a requirement. Waikiki repeatedly states his commitment to Honolulu, yet keeps finding reasons not to be in the same room as him. The otherwise simple movie gains depth from these small touches.

However, when the film’s scale grows, Pearce’s proficiency seems to diminish. His depictions of the riot and the streets of Los Angeles feel too empty and regulated, not nearly as wild and populated as it should. Additionally, his exteriors feel generic. The hotel interiors have such character and interesting nooks and crannies that the bland alleys outside always let you down.

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That’s A Wrap

To return to our earlier question, no, HOTEL ARTEMIS is no SPEED. It does not elevate its elevator pitch. However, it does not drag it down either. It is a pulpy action drama with charismatic actors taking the affair seriously. This is the kind of mid-budget action-er we just do not see so often anymore. It is also the kind of movie that you’ll catch on cable and feel sucked into by the mix of style and chemistry on-screen. It might be one part this movie, half a part that movie, and another part this other film. However, when it blends it all together with this kind of style, one doesn’t so much mind.

HOTEL ARTEMIS: Honolulu
Brian Tyree Henry rocks a very cool mask in a scene from HOTEL ARTEMIS. (Courtesy of Global Road Entertainment)

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