Two years ago there were two intriguing looking movies about hotels from pretty good writer/directors named Drew. I didn’t get around to seeing either, and they seemed to have unusual premises that were hard to explain in the trailers, so I have always been confused about what they were about and which one was which. When I saw HOTEL ARTEMIS was on Amazon Prime and clicked on it I had my fingers crossed that it was the one with Dave Bautista. And it was.
It takes place over one Wednesday night in L.A., summer of 2028, in what I gotta say are bad times at the Hotel Artemis. There are huge riots in the streets, which a crew of robbers in very stylish skeleton masks are trying to use to cover their getaway, but they get spotted by cops. Sherman (Sterling K. Brown, THE RHYTHM SECTION), his younger brother Lev (Brian Tyree Henry, WIDOWS) and a guy named Buke (Kenneth Choi, TIMECOP 2: THE BERLIN DECISION, STREET KINGS, Judge Ito to Brown’s Christopher Darden in The People vs. O.J. Simpson) manage to get away, but with injuries, so there’s only one place they can go. (See the title of the movie for specifics.)
From the ads I definitely got a JOHN WICK vibe, and the similarity is that this is an exclusive secret hotel for elite criminals, and they have to be members and follow the rules. That’s about it. This is not really an action movie, and it is a sci-fi movie, and though this place is housed inside an aging hotel, its purpose is to be an underworld emergency room. It’s quite an elaborate operation for a hard working nurse (that’s what they call her, because I guess the machines are the doctors?) named Jean (Jodie Foster, ELYSIUM).
Though it’s on earth and it’s only eight years from now, it kind of has that feeling of a movie about blue collar work on a spaceship or space station. It’s only Jean and her orderly Everest (Bautista, WRONG SIDE OF TOWN) running the whole place, letting members in through the security gate, turning on automated robot arms that do surgery, using very handy torches and sprays and injectors to heal wounds with nanotech, very cool stuff we could use in 2020 but never seeming clean or slick. It’s kind of haphazard, like battlefield surgery.
There are cool foldout screens that are basically shower curtains. There are 3D printers to build bones, marrow or tissue. Or, if you can override it, guns. But they all work very slow and sometimes get shut off because the lights keep flashing. Sometimes the generator goes out, and Everest has to go up to the roof to restart it. And then he sees a drone or something getting blown up by the cops, and the riots getting closer. Signs o’ the times.
The patients all have code names and rooms themed after vacation spots. Sherman becomes Waikiki, Lev becomes Honolulu. Acapulco (Charlie Day, PACIFIC RIM) is an obnoxious, entitled rich guy always complaining about shit and expecting to have his ass kissed. Nice (Sofia Boutella, STAR TREK BEYOND, ATOMIC BLONDE, CLIMAX) is a highly skilled assassin who has wounded herself to get closer to a target – we’re not sure who at first. And everybody’s freaking out because the scary guy called The Wolf King, who “runs L.A.” and owns the hotel, is on his way in. His son (Zachary Quinto, HITMAN: AGENT 47) called to demand a room saved for him, which is agains the policy, so Jean said no.
And there’s other stuff going on. Various threads of a crazy late night at a place where crazy shit goes down. They all take their time blowing around in the wind before they naturally weave together in a neat 90 minutes. Shit flies, fans are hit, and there is a pretty good fight (choreographers: Wade Allen [SALT] and Eric Brown [JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2]) as a special bonus. I think this is probly the most verbal English-speaking role I’ve seen for Boutella, whose background as a dancer helps her excel in physical roles like henchwoman Gazelle in KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE and the mummy in THE MUMMY. But I’m glad she still gets a chance to show off her moves.
I dig this movie’s depiction of a world on the brink, people rising up against a private water company, cops wearing storm trooper helmets with built-in red and blue flashers, but that stuff is going on in the background. The heart of the movie is these characters and their relationships: Sherman with his fuckup little brother who holds him back, Sherman and Nice as colleagues, and especially the friendship of Jean and Everest. Foster is playing something I’ve never seen her play before: an old lady. She’s small and hunched over but good at standing her ground with angry violent people. She has a cliche trauma (dead child, shown in beach flashbacks) and result (carrying around a bottle of Crown Royal) but mostly seems like a very authentic portrait of a humble, unglamorous person who throws herself into difficult work she’s very good at with little reward in the capitalistic sense.
And Bautista has that quality we love in Bautista: the giant with the rough edge and the sweet heart. He dryly comments when he has a bad feeling about Jean’s decisions, which is often, at least on this particular shift. But he’s fiercely loyal to her, very professionally calls her “Nurse” and does whatever she tells him. He deliberately doesn’t know things about her life before Hotel Artemis, but when she’s too afraid to go outside the building he says, “What about that anxiety tape I gave you?” So they seem to have a connection that goes beyond just co-workers.
He proudly calls himself “a medical professional,” but he’s mostly a security guard who has to choke, punch and threaten some guys, and he gets exhausted with all this running around. I guess there are about five or six roles I could say this about, but it’s one of his best.
The whole time I watched this I was thinking it was by the guy that did CABIN IN THE WOODS, but that’s the other Drew. This is Drew Pearce, the Drew that wrote IRON MAN THREE for Shane Black and has a story credit on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION. And he wrote HOBBS & SHAW, I didn’t remember that. This directorial debut is the most unusual of his filmography, so I hope he gets more chances to do his own projects. He did a good job with the actors and it’s a nice looking movie too. No wonder – the cinematographer is Chung-hoon Chung, who did OLDBOY, LADY VENGEANCE and IT.
I like these characters and this world and that it feels more like a one-crazy-night story than the-night-that-changed-all-their-lives. I mean, in some cases I’m sure it did, but it’s not about them having to climb up a building and defuse a nuclear bomb or anything like that.
I’m sure opinions vary but I think from what I heard this was supposed to be the lesser of the 2018 hotel duology. If so that’s great news because I really liked this one.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.