The John Wick movies have a hotel, The Continental, that’s exclusively for assassins, where a code of conduct (e.g., no “working” on the premises) is strictly enforced. So fascinating is the society hinted at (they even use their own currency) that a TV series about The Continental is in production for Starz.
Unfortunately for Hotel Artemis, a noir-ish crime thriller set in a similar facility, anyone who’s seen John Wick will find these accommodations far less intriguing. Disregarding the comparison, this pulpy jaunt through the underworld, written and directed by Iron Man 3 co-writer Drew Pearce, offers mid-grade violent fun, but it feels unfinished, as if it were based on a trilogy of graphic novels and they only adapted two. (It’s actually not based on anything. It just seems like it is.)
The Artemis is more of a hospital than a hotel, actually, run by the nameless Nurse (Jodie Foster) in riot-torn Los Angeles in 2028. With the soft accent and tough-love attitude of an East Coast nun, and assisted by a hulking handyman called Everest (Dave Bautista), the Nurse uses mildly futuristic medical technology (nanites, 3D-printed livers) to patch up wounded criminals who risk being caught if they go to a regular hospital. Not all criminals, though — you have to pay membership dues and submit to a background check, as the Nurse’s compassion does not extend to pedophiles or terrorists. And like The Continental, the Artemis has rules against fighting or killing one’s fellow patients.
We arrive here with two gunshot bank robbers, brothers, who are assigned the codenames Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) and Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry) according to the hotel’s themed suites. Waikiki will recover, but Honolulu is critical. Also present and recuperating from injuries are a smooth assassin, Nice (Sofia Boutella), and a bastardly arms dealer, Acapulco (Charlie Day), who, as a white-collar criminal, considers himself above the common Artemis riffraff.
The Nurse and Everest keep the Artemis up and running while the city is being torn apart by riots, but their safety is threatened by the imminent arrival of a special patient: Franklin (Jeff Goldblum), aka the Wolf King of L.A., the crime lord who owns half the city, including the Artemis. Waikiki and Nice both have unfinished business with the Wolf King, whose snotty, hotheaded son, Crosby (Zachary Quinto), and his goon squad arrive ahead of time to make sure there’s a room available and to set everyone on edge.
There’s also a subplot that we assume will tie in with the main one, or at least provide new conflict, but then it does neither of those things. A wounded police officer (Jenny Slate) shows up at the Artemis, asking for help and calling the Nurse by her real name. Cops are not allowed here, for obvious reasons, but the Nurse can’t turn away someone from her past. Bafflingly, the cop’s only function in the plot is to fill us in on the Nurse’s backstory, never interacting significantly with any of the criminals, never to return once she’s patched up and on her way.
That’s the kind of thing I mean when I say the movie feels unfinished. See also: the Nurse’s agoraphobia, often mentioned but never a real factor in the plot; a loose thread involving Waikiki and stolen jewels that doesn’t go anywhere; whatever Acapulco’s deal is. It sometimes feels like an episode of a TV series, with an A story and a B story that don’t necessarily connect — just another busy night at the Artemis, you know?
But even underdeveloped, this fictional universe is enjoyable to hang out in. I can’t imagine what possessed Jodie Foster to star in this nerdy, half-baked genre exercise after not being in a movie for five years, but she commits herself fully to gruff lines like, “Things are going to hell in a hand-basket full of blood and s***.” Jeff Goldblum, present only for a few minutes (don’t get your hopes up), is characteristically nutty, and Charlie Day is always a lively addition. The usually excellent Sterling K. Brown can’t quite get his bearings. The whole thing’s kind of a sloppy mess, but not in a bad way.