'Hotel Artemis' Review: A Messy But Undeniably Enjoyable Debut For Drew Pearce

Every character in Hotel Artemis is operating on a different wavelength and, to quote an old Bethesda answer, it seems to be both a feature and a bug.

Part of it has to do with the movie's premise. The hotel is a hospital for criminals, and in exchange for keeping up with their membership fees and surrendering their weapons before coming in, they get patched up and left alone for the duration of their stay. As such, it makes sense that the rogue's gallery that's assembled in Drew Pearce's film would all be working towards their own ends instead of presenting a unified front, but the sense of fracturing runs a little deeper than that. These performances all belong in different movies.

It's to the credit of the cast that they make it work. Each character is cut from such colorful cloth that you immediately get where each is coming from; though they're not necessarily fleshed out (with the exception of the Nurse, played by Jodie Foster), they don't need to be. (Again, a feature and a bug.) To that end, they all go by codenames, as designated by the suite of the hotel they're staying in. There's Waikiki, the bank robber trying to get out of the racket (Sterling K. Brown); Honolulu, his wild brother (Brian Tyree Henry); Nice, the femme fatale (Sofia Boutella); Acapulco, the loudmouth (Charlie Day), and the Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum). All of them speak in wisecracks and one-liners right up until the bullets start flying, with crosses leading the double-crosses and, naturally, a lot of blood.

Of the bunch, Acapulco is probably the strangest, not because his character is anything we haven't seen before — we have, as he's the ultimate American douchebag — but because it's a new performance from Day. He seems to have taken the rasp out of his voice, and it works to make his supercilious character unsettling as well as unpleasant. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Zachary Quinto has managed to make a similarly slimy character sadly sympathetic. His character wears his need for his father's approval on his sleeve so nakedly that it's hard not to feel bad for him, even when he throws wrench after wrench into the plans of the ostensible protagonists.

That said, the only truly memorable character in the bunch is the Nurse. Accompanied by her assistant Everest (Dave Bautista), she scurries around the hotel looking after her guests, and drinking in order to keep past trauma buried. It's that trauma that also keeps her cooped up inside the building — she refuses to go outside, and even the mere idea is enough to send her into a spiral of anxiety. As her past begins to catch up with her despite her attempts to escape it, Pearce's camera draws in closer and closer to Foster's face, bringing some much-needed emotion into a landscape that is otherwise solely comprised of quips and quirks.

It helps that Bautista proves to be a terrific comic foil, though, to once again qualify my praise, it makes it hard not to wish that Foster and Bautista were given more to do. I'd be happy to cut one or two of the assassins out for the sake of giving them more screen time — or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, to beef the film up into a Hateful Eight-esque epic bloodbath with plenty of time allotted to everyone.

That said, Hotel Artemis could probably have taken a page out of The Hateful Eight's book (even at its current runtime) in terms of ending with a bang. The film's conclusion feels surprisingly (and slightly disappointingly) tame for what the mix of cooped-up assassins would seem to promise, especially given the film's setting in a futuristic L.A., with people rioting over the worsening water shortage. And unfortunately, the inclusion of the riots doesn't quite feel fully fleshed-out. That Hotel Artemis is set in the future isn't incidental, as much of the technology by which the film runs is dependent on futuristic trickery (nanotechnology, 3D printing, etc.), but the ideas about preserving resources and the divide between haves and have-nots that are introduced by the riots are only cursorily addressed, if at all.

Of course, that's not to say that there isn't plenty to enjoy in Pearce's feature debut. The movie features one of the most inventive (and awful) deaths I've ever seen in a film, and despite multiple comparisons to John Wick in the weeks following the trailer's release, Hotel Artemis does a fairly good job of carving out its own identity. Like the hotel itself, the film comes with its own set of rules — as soon as you stop worrying about the details, you'll start having fun.

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10