Film Review: Hotel Artemis

Crooks open battle in a bootleg L.A. hospital while riots erupt outside in a sci-fi thriller with a surprising cast.
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The future is a war zone in Hotel Artemis, a sci-fi thriller with a so-so plot. Stellar casting and expert design separate this a bit from the pulp pack, but genre fans will feel let down in the end.

Writer-director Drew Pearce offers an enveloping vision of downtown Los Angeles in 2028. Corporations rule, the poor riot over water, and cops are a step away from killing machines. High-tech advances in medical devices and communications don't do much to offset pollution, climate disasters and widespread power failures.

Caught in a violent crossfire, brother bank robbers take their loot to the Hotel Artemis, a derelict hotel whose penthouse has been converted into a state-of-the-art medical clinic. Only members are allowed inside, where firearms are prohibited and everyone operates under aliases based on the names of suites.

Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) has been trying to get out of Los Angeles, but his druggie mess of a brother Honolulu ("Atlanta"'s Brian Tyree Henry) keeps screwing up, most recently by lifting the wrong loot during a bank robbery. Running on pills and alcohol, the "Nurse" (Jodie Foster) patches Honolulu up before prepping the clinic for the arrival of the Wolfking (Jeff Goldblum), a feared crimelord and owner of the clinic.

Waiting for Honolulu to recover, Waikiki runs into old acquaintance Nice (Sofia Boutella) in the hotel lounge. Obnoxious tech mogul Acapulco (Charlie Day, copying Joe Pesci shtick) has been trying to hit on her and will soon find out to his regret that Nice is a world-class assassin. Waikiki then learns that Honolulu stole from the Wolfking, placing their lives in peril.

Before the Wolfking gets to the Artemis, Morgan (Jenny Slate), a wounded cop on the street, begs for help. The Nurse and her orderly Everest (Dave Bautista) put their lives on the line to bring her inside via a secret passage, breaking several of the Wolfking's rules.

Pearce, who co-wrote Iron Man 3, has a knack for inking vivid characters in tense situations. The first half of Hotel Artemis is all confrontations and showdowns that pit people for and against one another like pieces on a board game. It's a lot of effort for underwhelming results once the actual plot emerges. Like the flashbacks to the Nurse's earlier life as a mother and charity aide, material that threatens to drown the story in sentiment. Or the watered-down Oedipal stuff between the Wolfking and his son Crosby (Zachary Quinto).

Pearce's direction largely leaves the performers to their own devices. Foster is all tics and grimaces, spitting out lines in a terse fury that can be fascinating. But her part is ultimately uninvolving. Noted scene-stealer Goldblum feels reined in, as does Brown.

Resurrecting herself from The Mummy, Boutella is dazzling as a heartless killer, while Bautista continues his string of superb outings as thoughtful, articulate musclemen. Unfortunately, they are both served poorly by the movie's murky, badly choreographed action.

With its unusual settings, performers you want to watch and strong production design, Hotel Artemis makes a lot of promises, not enough of which are kept.

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