“You work with what you got, not what you hope for.” It’s the credo of Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown), a tough-guy crook in the sci-fi noir Hotel Artemis. It’s also the way writer-director Drew Pearce (co-writer on great Iron Man and Mission: Impossible entries) seems to have cobbled together his first original work — converting a so-so idea and a good cast into an eight-figure scramble of the movies and books of which he’s fond.
Dumbly humdrum but mercifully brief, Artemis is a third-rate genre mashup that coolly hand-waves explaining “nanites” because it knows you’ll vaguely remember that word from a Kingsman movie. And then, for mnemonic good measure, someone from a Kingsman movie shows up; at least Sofia Boutella gets a scene that puts her lithe, leonine menace to good use.
Boutella’s Nice — like the city, not the disposition — is just one of many law-breakers holed up in the titular traveler’s rest. Most characters share names with the hotel suites where they convalesce or cool off in 2028 Los Angeles, where water and civic protection are privatized. When the former is shut off, the latter is overrun, and large-scale riots engulf the city.
That’s a lot of walking wounded, but Artemis is a secret hotel / hospital only for dues-paying criminals. Well … as secret as a place can be with a giant neon sign on its roof. Everest (Dave Bautista) is its bouncer, constantly threatening outsiders with harm should they reveal the place’s deal. Perhaps he should worry less about reigniting that sign amid rolling blackouts.
It’s just another bloody night for Jean Thomas (Jodie Foster), both nurse and nursemaid to petulant crooks, who has rarely seen the sun after 30 years of hotel service. There’s Waikiki and his blood-leaking brother, Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry), waltzing right in after a botched bank robbery. Nice has a minor gunshot wound, for which one would hope she is assessed a mere hourly rate. Meanwhile, Acapulco (Charlie Day, exhausting what little post-Sunny capital he still had) is a misogynist dolt impatiently waiting for the aforementioned nanites to patch his face.
Two rules: No killing and no outsiders, regardless of any respective beef and cheddar flung about. Both will be broken … and on a night that the boss comes by, too! Orion Franklin, the owner, has so prioritized parity that not even he is guaranteed a room. It makes sense for Jeff Goldblum to play Orion as a guy who wears sandals; why not let one of this film’s few fresh breezes rush across open toes, too? (Zachary Quinto is Crosby, Orion’s dipshit hothead heir.)
Lots of characters. What’s the story? Good question. No McGuffin and little narrative momentum, really, beyond a few secrets, middling connections and inevitable confrontation. Bautista is saddled with painfully bland exposition, revealing Pearce’s disinterest in him beyond butts in seats for a beloved Marvel actor. Jenny Slate plays “community organizer” whose cause is limply lending clarity to the troubled past, glimpsed in skittish flashbacks, of Nurse Jean.
Brown generates brief gravitas from Waikiki, eager to walk the straight-and-narrow but keeping his Artemis membership active as a cold-turkey quitter might stash pack of smokes … just in case the itch returns. Like so many other fleeting pleasures of Hotel Artemis, it’s but a feint.
Foster spitting nails is also a pleasure, referring to a bullet-riddled liver as “air-conditioned” and lamenting that “there’s no water in L.A., but it’s raining assholes in here.” The rest of Pearce’s dialogue feels like eggs that you’ve ordered hard-boiled but would eat if they came soft-boiled, which ultimately arrive as boilerplate as the carton’s FDA warning label.
Nurse Jean is also a bland role for which the producers certainly would have called Melissa Leo if Foster said no. It’s depressing to get so little of Foster on screen anymore and when we do, it’s dunderheaded dystopian duds like this or Elysium. We hope for so much better from her, and Artemis, but we work with we’ve got.