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There’s a lot going on in first-time director Drew Pearce’s sci-fi thriller Hotel Artemis, some of it ingenious, some of it frustratingly half-baked. It’s a film arriving in a season mostly lacking in creativity that’s filled with ideas, a misshapen B-movie that tries to bring a jagged grindhouse sensibility back into the multiplex. It almost works as well.
In 2028, a riot is spreading in Los Angeles. The privatization of water companies has led to a violent revolt and as crime is on the up, so is the need for Hotel Artemis. It’s one of many black-market hospitals catering to criminals requiring medical assistance. The Nurse (Jodie Foster) is the embittered one in charge, using technologically advanced equipment to fix up those in need with the help of her orderly Everest (Dave Bautista). It’s a busy night and she finds herself and her “hotel” at full capacity, dealing with a variety of idiosyncratic guests, known only by the room within which they are staying.
There’s Acapulco (Charlie Day), an obnoxious arms dealer, Nice (Sofia Boutella), a glamorous yet lethal assassin and brothers Waikiki (Sterling K Brown) and Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry), on the lam after a bank heist gone wrong. As tensions in the group reach boiling point, they’re joined by two surprise visitors guaranteed to make things even worse: a figure from the Nurse’s past (Jenny Slate) and then the city’s biggest crime boss (Jeff Goldblum). As the riot edges closer to the hotel, the ragtag group begin to test the Nurse’s No 1 rule: guests should never kill other guests.
Pearce, whose previous screenwriting credits include far broader blockbusters like Iron Man 3 and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, has had Hotel Artemis in his back pocket for a number of years, and that’s clear from the outset, for better and for worse. There’s care in his construction, the central premise benefiting from an ambitiously wrought world and some atmospheric set design. The titular hotel is drenched in character from its fading, grimy wallpaper to its high-concept tech (a 3D organ printer is a nice touch) and we’re eager to know more about its history and mysterious guests.
Cards are kept close to Pearce’s chest for the first half, the more entertaining of the two, as questions about the hotel’s origins, potential links between the guests and the past of Foster’s character linger. Initially Foster appears slightly miscast, overly mannered and playing much older than she really is, but she eases into the role, showcasing a trademark hardened strength and helps to sell some of the more emotionally weighty scenes she’s given. It’s her first film since 2013’s Elysium and it feels like an odd choice, the character’s journey never quite selling us on why it would lure such a big star back to the big screen. The motley crew around her aren’t always given adequate space to shine, with Brown emerging as the strongest and with Goldblum appearing in the sort of cameo that feels like a quick favor.
Tonally, the film lurches from techno-soundtracked fight scenes to teary monologues to knockabout humor within minutes, the pace rarely letting up long enough for one to notice the unevenness. For the most part, the nuttiness works but as the film careens off the rails toward the end, it feels like the product of some studio tampering. At just 97 minutes, it’s often rushed, the eagerly awaited confrontations and reveals thrown at the audience and landing without the fireworks they deserve. Pearce ultimately chooses action and immediacy over drawn-out suspense, a shame given that the film sets up a number of Hitchcockian situations that aren’t squeezed for quite enough juice. Smarts and intrigue give way to lapses in logic and generic fight sequences that segue into a shameless sequel-baiting finale.
For all of its faults, there’s still plenty here to praise, the result of so much being thrown at the wall is that some of it will stick. Pearce has a sharp creative flair and a head full of ideas but he feels somewhat hemmed in by the constraints of a short running time and a high profile release date. There’s a more audacious and structurally sound film somewhere, maybe we’ll see it at a later stage, but for now, Hotel Artemis will stick out as one of the summer’s most alluring curios.
- Hotel Artemis is released in the US on 8 June and in the UK on 29 July
Source: The Guardian
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