In Hotel Artemis, a high-rise hospital for criminals only run by a single nurse (Jodie Foster), there are two rules:
1. You must be a member to get in.
2. There are no guns allowed.
There should have been a third one: always have focus and a plan.
Seasoned writer Drew Pearce's directorial debut has style to burn, but lacks focus in its direction and tone. Imagine a tourist driving a problematic car through a new city without a GPS, and you have Hotel Artemis. He makes multiple stops, crashes a few times, rides smoothly for a couple streets before going off the road minutes later. Equal parts silly, campy, and boisterous, there's something buried here that's original, but by the time 93 minutes is spent, it can't be found. Pearce knows what he wants to do here, but he lacks a map that will get him there.
Foster's Nurse runs a getaway spot for the seedy underbelly of society, a sanctuary for the law-breaking wounded souls who want to stay off police scanners and hospital databases. Remember the part in movies where the anti-hero goes to the doctor in the dimly lit veterinarians' office? Well, instead of that, you have Artemis, which lights up the near-future apocalyptic Los Angeles skyline as the movie opens up.
When Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) drags his wounded brother Honolulu (Brian Tyree-Henry) through the door, the Nurse is sadly gulping down whiskey as the city falls apart due to a clean water shortage (one of the only scary real life glimpses into our future). When the brothers come in, she snaps into focus, grabbing her IPad-like device to prep a table and the wizardry surgeon like tools and equipment that can extract bullets and recreate body organs in a matter of hours.
There's also the foul-mouthed arms dealer Acapulco (Charlie Day), deadly beauty Nice (Sofia Boutella), and the Nurse's protector, Everest (Dave Bautista, stealing the show as a tough and tender sheet of armor for the older woman). All parties don't just have the riots outside to worry about. The city's most violent gangster, Niagara (Jeff Goldblum chewing scenery like its celery) and his son (Zachary Quinto, whiny and distracting), are coming in guns hot with a wound, but he may have other intentions as well.
There's subplots concerning the Nurse's past and a random cop who shows up at her front door (Jenny Slate), but those aren't given enough weight to really matter into the central plot, which is basically chaos.
The entire movie is a bunch of imperfect people running around a hotel trying to stay alive and await the arrival of Goldblum's baddie, which wouldn't be a bad thing if the pacing wasn't so slow. You are ready to bring a gun into the operating room by the time the 75 minute mark hits and shooting breaks out. It's a slow boil with characters that you know enough about but don't particularly care too much for.
I am not kidding with the names either. The quirky names, low-budget setup, and outlandish plot points all speak to a pulpy fantasy that Pearce dreamed up back in 2011. He sprinkles spices and herbs all over the plate of this film, but there's no meat.
Bautista and Brown carve out personalities that seem interesting, but they aren't given enough to do or have the right amount of time to be anything other than a prop. For a film with so many rules, there are no blueprints on how to execute a plan of attack for the characters. They all just wander around looking tough, pretty, and cool while waiting out death, which could come in three different directions.
Foster's accent in the film, which cobbles together Brooklyn and a few other areas, doesn't always work, and her walk throughout the film also pesters the mind. She seems like more of a gimmick than an actual fleshed out character that should be the anchor of the film. Her Nurse carries the least intrigue, but gets the most screen time. I wanted more time with Bautista's tough guy. All the actors have been in better movies.
Again, there's style here for days, but it's more in the setup and set design. When the fight scenes finally come, they are messy and uncoordinated, like an overweight softball player trying to leg out a triple. For an R-rated film, the bloodiness of the film is low and not blunt enough. Lean into it!
There's also a heartfelt touch lingering in this film that never finds its footing. You start to care about a particular character and then the plot moves to someone else. Like the Nurse going from patient to patient, the plot can't decide which character to truly latch onto. An island of misfit and dangerous toys playing with the Grim Reaper for 90 minutes.
Did I scream for my money back after the movie ended? No, but I wasn't very impressed either. The film's ending was rather predictable and forgettable, leaving you wanting more. The lack of substance overwhelmed the existence of style.
While the cast does their best and the effort is there, Hotel Artemis lacks focus and finish. I'd save it for home viewing.