A lot of movies (for that matter a lot of television shows and books as well) make promises. Sometimes these promises are implied, not explicit, but they exist nonetheless. At the outset of the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” we are promised a story that will tell us how Jem broke his arm. “Lost” promises us an explanation of the island. Promises are not always fulfilled in a satisfactory way—think of the first season finale for “Heroes”—but they are there.
By the film’s very nature, writer/director Drew Pearce promises us that “Hotel Artemis” is going to feature bloodshed and action. It is in the way the movie starts, with blood streaks and a gang of robbers including brothers Sherman (Sterling K. Brown) and Lev (Brian Tyree Henry) in the middle of a heist gone bad.
After being injured in a shootout with the cops, the brothers, along with a partner, Buke (Kenneth Choi), head to the secretive Hotel Artemis. A decrepit building, the Hotel is run by a woman known only as the Nurse (Jodie Foster) and stocked with futuristic (it’s 2028) medical devices to help save the lives of criminals.
It is a wonderful setup for a film and as things unspool, it only gets better. We meet the Nurse’s helper, Everest (Dave Bautista), as well as clients known only as Nice (Sofia Boutella) and Acapulco (Charlie Day). Everyone has a secret agenda and despite the hotel being a safe haven, everyone is exceptionally dangerous and therefore wary of everyone else. The hotel rules may insist upon a truce, but it is an uneasy one.
Outside the building, the city of Los Angeles is rioting over the lack of water. Power outages are a constant threat and the audience knows well that the safety of the hotel is going to be tested in short order.
And so it is. The mysterious owner of the hotel (Jeff Goldblum) arrives, as does one of his boys (Zachary Quinto). They merely add to the list of people with secret motivations and the various rules of the hotel are broken. Blood is spilt.
The thing of it is though, the climactic moments of the film still feel like a let down, like a promise not kept. There are some good action bits, but it never feels like a big enough moment to satisfy the build to it. Those longing for an extended action sequence will walk away feeling a little underwhelmed.
Perhaps surprisingly, some of the dramatic bits are far more effective. Learning the history of Foster’s Nurse, and how her time at the hotel began, is wonderful. Foster adds a weight to the character that in lesser hands might not exist. Bautista is quite good as well, offering up a character who has not just the ability to fight, but also the ability to feel. Goldblum is in full, over-the-top, Goldblum-mode, and the film is better for him, too. There is still disappointment there, however, as he is not in enough of the film to make the splash that he ought.
The aforementioned promise is only strengthened by the power of the visuals. It is a moodily shot film with darkness abounding. It serves the storyline wonderfully even if one might occasionally want the brightness turned up just a tad.
While it is undeniably true that no one who watches this movie would want to live in the future it offers up, it is also true that people watching the movie will want to see more of it. Those who like dark, futuristic, actioners will enjoy what they get here, but still wind up believing that they should have gotten more.
“Hotel Artemis” is a movie that overpromises and under delivers. Perhaps in a world where things like the “John Wick” films exist, we all know that movies can deliver on promises similar to those set out here.
Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, I’ll say that what exists here in the film is good, but it just isn’t enough.
photo credit: Global Road Entertainment