Review by C.J. Bunce
No guns, no killing the other patients, and no cops. The titular Hotel Artemis in Drew Pearce‘s directorial debut film is a secret hospital for criminals, criminals who must be members to utilize its elite services, which consist of high-tech, life-saving medicine. Services are provided under the direction of a craggy, battle-hardened, and effective nurse known primarily as “the Nurse,” played by Oscar-winner Jodie Foster, in what is probably her most exciting and outside-the-box role so far. She has hard rules for guests in the same vein as the Continental Hotel in John Wick, and parallels to that movie’s plot device made obvious in the trailers may have been what kept away some of the action movie audience. Now streaming and available on disc formats, Hotel Artemis is worth giving a second chance, if only because you’re looking for something action-packed that feels like a 1980s “B” action flick.
The year is 2028 with more riots in Los Angeles, heating up worse than ever as police and citizens face off on the downtown streets. And the battle is approaching the door of the Hotel Artemis. Enter two brothers played by this year’s rising star Sterling K. Brown (Black Panther, Marshall, The Predator) and Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse), both just shot while robbing a bank. Everyone takes on city name aliases in the hotel, theirs Waikiki and Honolulu. They join other guests Acapulco, played by Pacific Rim: Uprising’s Charlie Day, and Nice, played by the decade’s number one female action star, Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Atomic Blonde, Star Trek Beyond). The humor is all tongue-in-cheek, the kind that makes James Bond movies work so well. Along with directing, Pearce also wrote the script, and the combination of the best of today’s actors and his banter bouncing between them turns a freshman effort into something better.
The cast gets better, too: Dave Bautista plays the Nurse’s loyal orderly Everest in a role different from how we’ve seen him in Guardians of the Galaxy, Blade Runner 2049, or Spectre, except for that tardemark tough-guy physicality. Jeff Goldblum plays both a criminal and the owner of the hotel, which presents a bit of a conflict for the Nurse along the way, Zachary Quinto plays his whiny wannabe son, and rounding out the cast is The Predator’s Jenny Slate, a wounded cop who shares a past with someone inside the hospital
Call it neo-noir action thriller or cyberpunk, the terms apply by way of the film’s night setting and its incorporation of future tech into the various subplots. But it is even closer to John Carpenter’s brand of post-apocalyptic action vehicle, sharing many elements with his Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape from New York. If Pearce was trying for a Carpenter homage, he deserves a full A grade as Hotel Artemis is as close to a Carpenter film as audiences are going to find outside his own catalogue of films.
The visual style and story will make this a must-see for fans of John Carpenter action movies. Fans of any of the actors will find enough character work here to add this to your watch list. The story and dialogue are also fun, but it plays like a first-time film for a director, so don’t expect any accolades come award season. Still–Drew Pearce will be a director to keep an eye on.
If you’ve ever known an ex-military nurse or doctor, you’ll enjoy Jodie Foster’s tough-as-nails yet fragile character study here. And Sofia Boutella gets the spotlight in a hand-to-hand combat scene on par with her best action scene work to-date.
Don’t miss the credits roll, which hints at a possible sequel.