Hotel Artemis is all set up. It’s solid set up, undoubtedly – a heightened, John Wick-esque criminal world by way of John Carpenter – but once it has set out its wares, it proceeds to pulls its punches. One’s left more impressed by the dependable performances and Drew Pearce’s solid footing as a (debut feature) director than his ability to develop a satisfying screenplay.
Pearce’s most notable credits to date have been in collaboration or conjunction with other, more esteemed scribes (Shane Black on Iron Man Three and Christopher McQuarrie rewriting him on Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Pearce having already been rewritten by Will Staples). This may be the most undiluted we’ve seen him as a result, and the effect is… derivative, in a manner recalling those better ’90s knock-offs that proceeded in the wake of Tarantino’s genre shake-up. You can tell its writer led, as the plot revolves around interaction rather than set pieces, but it fails to stake out sufficiently fresh territory or identity amid the tropes.
Set in 2028 LA during water privatisation riots, Pearce has fashioned a secret hotel that patches up criminals – rather recalling the hotel for hitmen in the John Wicks – wherein he focuses on the cross section of suspects with various agendas, each tended by Jodie Foster’s Jean Thomas (aka the Nurse). The template proffers tried-and-tested types, their ready recognisability not necessarily being a bad thing. Although, agoraphobic Jean’s painful past, complete with haunted flashbacks, is on the prefab side (as is the resolution of her arc, if you can call it that). She’s accompanied by right-hand giant Everest (Dave Bautista), fond of reciting his care code to patients, and the pair have an easy, chalk-and-cheese rapport.
Sterling K Brown’s Sherman (aka Waikiki: patients are known by the suite they’re booked into) is the honourable criminal, caring for little brother following a bank robbery gone wrong. Nice (Sofia Boutella) is the deadly assassin; it’s unclear how she knew her target was incoming before everyone else seems to have done, but I’ll assume there’s an answer and it isn’t a plot hole. Charlie Day is arms dealer Acapulco, an effectively repulsive creation; Day appears to be channelling Joe Pantoliano in Midnight Run. Adding friction to the mix are an injured cop (Jenny Slate) and the imminent arrival of Jeff Goldblum’s the Wolf King (aka Niagara), the crime lord who essentially runs LA; he’s preceded by his unstable son Crosby (Zachary Quinto), set on evading protocol and entering the premises by force.
Pearce peppers the scenario with advances in medical tech, from regenerative nanobots and laser surgical implements to liver transplants via 3D printing, effectively contrasting with the Artemis’ dilapidated décor (garish wallpapers are the key feature of each suite, a literal depiction of their names). And he sets the groundwork for effective Escape from New York-style claustrophobia, juxtaposing the relative calm of the Artemis with the tumult outside, so underscoring Jean’s fear of leaving, the potential for ensuing altercations if anyone should learn of the cop, and the pen full of valuables carried by Sherman.
And yet, as writer, the director seems content to allow the tension to defuse just as it’s taking root. Conspiring threads that seem surely geared to break into a fight for survival once all hell breaks loose in the hotel, parties discovering deceits and deceptions and lurking agendas, never really gets there. Resolutions are reached too easily. It isn’t even clear that Sherman should be worried about having the Wolf King’s pen, since no one on the latter’s staff seems to know he has it. And since he’s the only one who finds out about the cop and he has a good heart, that’s never really an issue either.
Thus, when things go wrong, they lead to the least interesting climax. Everest and Nice elect to stay behind while Jean and Sherman escape, neither for any very good reasons, but because that’s what you do in this kind of tale. And then, denied exits in blazes of glory, Pearce doesn’t have the heart and instead shows us that both have survived. This following a desperately rote confrontation between Jean and Sherman and a revenge-seeking Crosby.
It’s good to see Brown granted – effectively – leading man duties. Foster, after a five-year screen absence, doesn’t really give us an inking why she chose this part for her return (other than being asked and because she likes the crumpled old bag lady schtick). It’s nevertheless nice to have her back. Boutella yet again shows her unrivalled chops in the action stakes with an extended fight in a corridor, while Goldblum makes the most of a glorified cameo.
There are a number of writer-directors who have staked out a reasonably successful low-tier pegging in their multi-hyphenate field (David Koepp, David Twohy, Scott Frank, Drew Goddard), without – yet – showing any danger of busting out into truly sought-after status (McQuarrie, Black, Joss Whedon kind-of). On this evidence, Pearce isn’t likely to hit the next level any time soon, but as with all those names (just about) I’m eager to see whatever he does next. Hotel Artemis is okay for what it is, and wisely doesn’t outstay its welcome, but it lacks that extra something that would guarantee future cult status.