Monday, June 11, 2018

In Theaters: HOTEL ARTEMIS (2018)

(UK/US/China - 2018)

Written and directed by Drew Pearce. Cast: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Dave Bautista, Charlie Day, Zachary Quinto, Brian Tyree Henry, Jenny Slate, Kenneth Choi, Evan Jones, Josh Tillman. (R, 94 mins)

Publicity materials, trailers, and TV spots for HOTEL ARTEMIS did a good job of hiding that it could more or less qualify as sci-fi, with its future dystopia setting, high-tech surgical procedures, and assassins upping their game with ocular implants. The feature directing debut of IRON MAN 3 co-writer and music video vet Drew Pearce--a member of the inner circle of hipster rocker Father John Misty, who appears here under his real name Josh Tillman--HOTEL ARTEMIS is a derivative mash-up of BLADE RUNNER and SMOKIN' ACES, with generous doses of JOHN WICK and John Carpenter. It's exactly the kind of mid-budget film that used to do decent business in spring or early fall but is virtually guaranteed to bomb in the summer season of sequels-and-superheroes. HOTEL ARTEMIS doesn't have an original thought in its head, but what it does have is a wildly eclectic and very game cast, some colorfully effective future/neo-noir cinematography by frequent Park Chan-wook collaborator Chung-hoon Chung, and an appropriately synthy, Carpenter-esque score by Cliff Martinez. It's fast-paced, has some dark-humored wit, and there's no shortage of blood-splattered mayhem. Admittedly, there isn't really much here of any substance, but it's enjoyable fun while you're watching, and it's gonna have a long life on streaming and cable not long after its blink-and-you-missed-it departure from theaters.

In a corporation-controlled 2028 Los Angeles, the water supply has been cut off from all but the extremely wealthy, leading to large-scale, city-wide rioting. The police are overwhelmed, and even with drones and missiles regularly hitting targets throughout the area, the city is a crime-infested hellscape. Caught in the rioting are a quartet of bank robbers that's reduced to a duo after a shootout with cops (for the curious, Father John Misty bites it fairly quickly). They make their way to the Hotel Artemis in the heart of downtown L.A., a 12-story building where the penthouse floor is a secret hospital for the city's criminals seeking refuge and off-the-record medical attention (the first rule: "No killing the other patients"). Membership is required and everyone is given an alias based on their room assignments. The brothers--sensible, diligent Waikiki (THIS IS US' Sterling K. Brown) and irresponsible, drug-abusing Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry)--arrive and are tended to by The Nurse (Jodie Foster), who runs a tight ship with her loyal orderly and security chief Everest (Dave Bautista).

With Honolulu requiring a new 3-D printed liver, Waikiki is forced to wait out the night while his brother recovers, and he mingles with other "guests," including his old flame Nice (Sofia Boutella), who shot herself in order to hide out at the Artemis on purpose in order to whack another patient, and loud, abrasive, and xenophobic arms dealer Acapulco (Charlie Day as Joe Pantoliano). The frumpy and sarcastic Nurse, a shut-in who's been holed up at the Artemis for 22 years and is still haunted by the overdose death of her son, tries to keep it together, but multiple complications ensue, starting with Morgan (Jenny Slate), an injured cop who knew The Nurse's son when they were kids, and Crosby Franklin (Zachary Quinto), a sniveling hothead who's nearly an hour away and en route with his gunshot-wounded father Orian Franklin (Jeff Goldblum), aka "The Wolf King," L.A's most powerful crime boss and the owner of the Hotel Artemis. When the city shuts down the grid, a power struggle ensues with The Nurse and Waikiki trying to escape as Crosby and his goons try to get in, thus creating another one of those classic RIO BRAVO/ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 situations.

The first thing that's obviously going to come to mind when watching HOTEL ARTEMIS is the Continental, the swanky hotel-for-hired killers in the JOHN WICK films. Granted, the Artemis is significantly more rundown and Skid Row-ish with its elaborately grungy production design both in its postmodern interiors and in its secret passageways. And that's the dilemma with HOTEL ARTEMIS on a creative level: almost everything in it has been done before. It's hard to believe it's 2018 and we're still getting a restaging of the OLDBOY corridor scene, which was already done to death when the instantly-forgotten Jude Law bomb REPO MEN did it eight years ago, and that was three years before Spike Lee's ill-advised OLDBOY remake which also redid it. Just because Boutella is using knives instead of a hammer doesn't make it unique. Pearce doesn't do it in a single take, and while it and the film are better showcases for Boutella than THE MUMMY ever could've been, it's still the same idea. The film does offer one very inspired "death by 3-D printer" scene that's pretty entertaining, and a restrained and almost regal Goldblum gets a terrific intro and offers a withering dismissal of his "soft" son's aspirations to be just like his father. The standout though, is Foster in her first acting role since 2013's ELYSIUM. Under unflattering aging makeup, slightly hunched, and taking brisk and tiny steps like a little old lady while using a broad accent, she seems to be relishing the chance to kick back and ham it up a bit in a junky B-movie. Her no-nonsense Nurse isn't afraid to stand up to ruthless killers, and she has a surprisingly endearing mother-son relationship with Everest, who respectfully defers to her ("Yes, Nurse") even as she's busting his chops to lose weight ("I'm not fat!"). HOTEL ARTEMIS may not offer much in the way of originality, but it does give you the Jodie Foster/Dave Bautista comedy team you never knew you wanted.

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