Hotel Artemis **1/2
One Liner Review:
A take on John Wick meets Smoking Aces, there might be a fantastic cast here and a decent setup, but at the end of the day, this one is really just more of the same.
Hotel Artemis is one of those movies that is all setup and very little execution. The premise here is pretty solid. What is there was a secret hospital that exclusively fixed up criminals? It’s called a hotel, and the hallways and rooms are meant to feel like that of a hotel, but let’s be real here… it’s a hospital. That’s why people are coming. But the hotel element just sounds a little cooler, and so this movie lifted that idea from the John Wick films, and decided to make a movie all about it. Fine enough. And what’s also pretty fine is the cast. This movie is a who’s who of famous faces. Every single speaking part here, other than the Asian actor at the beginning, is played by a name actor (and even that guy has some credit to his name, including Wolf of Wall Street, and multiple Marvel films.) But with all other parts, you actually know these actors by name and are glad to see them all together, in one narrow place.
If having a huge cast meant a whole lot, than Ocean’s 12 would have been a gem of a film. In fact, Hotel Artemis is most similar to the movie from over a decade ago, Smoking Aces. That movie also took place in a hotel, featured an all star cast, and was about a bunch of hit men and criminals who were all coming there after one thing… a target they were trying to kill who was holed up there. Luckily, Hotel Artemis isn’t quite about the same thing, although it certainly makes you think it is. The protagonist here is a man named Waikiki, played by Sterling K Brown, (although one can definitely make the argument that the real protagonist is The Nurse, played by Jodie Foster.) Waikiki is part of a bank robbery crew during a riot in Los Angeles sometime in the future. The robbery goes wrong when they can’t get the vault opened and most of the members of the crew get shot, but the robbers do manage to get away with something of value.
The item they take from the robbery is a pen vault. This is one of a number of futuristic gadgets and gizmos in this movie. You can see where they spent their money, and it wasn’t on action. It was on atmosphere. And that includes all the fine details, such as these sort of things. The pen vault pops open if you know the right trick, and inside it are a series of bright diamonds, worth millions. And this pen belongs to a guy named the Wolf King, who apparently is the biggest gangster in town, and the man who owns the hotel. So it’s assumed that he is coming there to get his diamonds. There’s lots of talk of what he does to anyone who steals from him, and how he makes an example out of them. And that’s what I mean when I say this movie makes you think it’s about everyone coming there, after the same thing.
But it isn’t. And that’s a good thing. The more original and fresh ideas the better. And some things that definitely do work for this movie are it’s very colorful cast, and it’s all in one night setup. Regarding the all in one night situation, the more time we spend around the hallways, lounges, and bars of the hotel the better. It means the more we get to meet the guests who are staying there. But we really don’t. We meet three guests who roam the halls, and Waikiki is one of them. The others are Nice (Sofia Boutella) and Acapulco (Charlie Day.) And that’s it. This is a pretty big mistake. You want to make this place really feel like a hotel, give us some different rooms, like nice lounges (think of The Shining.) Give us a bellhop or front desk person, like Barton Fink. Instead, there are only two people who work at the hotel, Nurse and Everest (Dave Bautista.) So while, they certainly got all star actors to fill all the roles, there aren’t enough roles on screen here. Having Jodie Foster be the one to answer the door and go to the front gate every time a new guest arrives gives her character more to do, but it certainly makes the place feel less like a hotel, and also less believable. Isn’t she supposed to be tending to dying patients? How can she stop what she’s doing to constantly answer the door?
That front door or gate is actually the penthouse floor of a giant, abandoned building. The front doors to the building are all locked up and the lobby is deserted. The real ways in or out are through side doors and back alleys that most people don’t know about. And yet the hotel does keep the roof lights on, which means a giant sign that says Hotel Artemis, all lit up. I guess that’s so the bad guys can find it from far away. And find it they do. It seems like everyone really knows about this place, (at no point to we find anyone who is surprised about it, and that includes a cop, who even says “I thought this place was a myth,” yet sat outside the door while bleeding, insisting that they open it, so clearly knew it was real.) When Waikiki first shows up on the penthouse floor, the Nurse makes them drop their “heat,” (their guns,) and then scan their handprints into the system to make sure they’ve been paying their dues. One guy in their crew hasn’t, and so he’s sent on his way. And when he doesn’t go pleasantly, Everest is sent to take out the garbage. This scene gives us the funniest moment in the movie, where Everest tells the guy nicely to not jump on his back again when he turns around. It might have been nice to see Everest really kick butt, and show why he is a guy that you don’t mess with, but if it came between him either beating this guy down or offering this funny line to show his restraint, the movie definitely made the right decision.
Getting back to the actors and cast of characters for a moment, there’s Brown, Foster, Boutella, Batista, Day, and also some others including Bryan Tyree Henry (Atlanta,) Jenny Slate, Zahcary Quinto, and Jeff Goldblum. And each one of them has a very significant part. This movie could almost have been a play, between it’s limited locations and small cast. But that’s also somewhat of the problem. The small cast means not enough guests or staff at the hotel. It also means the stories of way too many characters are connected. Think about it for a moment, five of these characters are here because of something going on with the Wolf King, (Goldblum – who plays the Wolf King, Quinto – who plays his son, Waikiki and Henry, who plays Waikiki’s drugged out brother Honolulu (all guests are given code names when they enter,) and Nice. Without giving away the twist of why Nice is there, (although it is revealed in the movie way too early,) the connection between Waikiki and Honolulu with the Wolf King is that they have his diamonds. And Quinto’s character, Crosby Franklin, is there because his father has been shot, and he and his posse are brining the gang boss in for immediate medical attention.
So that’s the surface level set of connections. The one that’s under the surface involves The Nurse’s son. I won’t give it away here, because it’s the “big twist,” of the movie, if you will, but let’s just say even more characters are connected than you initially think. And of course, it all comes out tonight. Everything. Every secret that these people have been living with for decades, as long as they’ve known each other, for some reason tonight they are all slipping up and revealing things that they normally wouldn’t be, and that’s just the way it goes. Believable… no. Entertaining… kind of. Cliched… definitely. When the first time we see The Nurse, she is waking up to answer the phone and knocks over a picture by her bedside before picking it up and staring into it while apparently having some deep thoughts, you know that this movie is not going to steering far away from cliches. How many times must this woman really knock that picture over if that’s where she keeps it? And how many times must she have stared into it and had these deep thoughts? The movie wants us to believe that this happens to her every day, but really it just wants to make us curious who this kid is and what the story about him is. Don’t worry, we will find out.
In fact, we really find everything out here. There isn’t a single thing that is left to the imagination, including a ring that The Wolf King gives his son before saying, “I hope you’ll know what to do with it, if you need to.” And of course, later on, the movie shows us the rings use. Why couldn’t we just have assumed that maybe it opens up a bank vault or something, (how funny would it be if this was the only way to get the vault opened that the guys couldn’t open at the beginning, brining this whole thing full circle?) But no, they show us. Anything that they setup even a little bit, they show us. And maybe that’s a good thing, but it also too often feels like they don’t want us to figure anything out for ourselves or leave anything to our imagination. The worst of that comes with the Nurse’s story about her son, where every little thing about this story is spelled out.
And that’s really one of the major problems with this movie. The twists aren’t handled well. The Nurse’s twist is kind of interesting, but we get too much of it all at once, coming from different characters in different scenes. Specifically I’m referring to Jenny Slate’s cop showing up just to give us information about this, and then the big twist coming from another character, totally unrelated to this, after that. And then there’s the “twist,” about who Nice is there to kill, which is also handled poorly. This movie starts off on the right foot with that idea, having us see her make a call to an employer asking for more money, saying that she had to shoot herself in the arm just to get in here, in order to get close enough to the target. And we speculate that the target is probably Waikiki and the diamonds. But this is it for a the speculation. The next time we hear of Nice’s target, she is telling us exactly who it is. More speculation would have been fun. Keep it going. Keep making us think she is really there for someone else. And even if you don’t keep it going, certainly don’t reveal who the target is way sooner than you need to. That deflates the surprise, from the moment when she actually does go after the target.
This movie was made by a first time director, and it shows. There are the marks of other films all over this one, and it seems to know what beats it should be hitting, but just not actually hit them. For example, there is definitely a lack of action here. There’s the opening shootout in an alley and then really nothing again until the end. And even that is kind of botched. Nice gets a fantastic action scene in a narrow hallway where she takes down a whole bunch of guys, but Everest and whatever he’s dealing with at the gate… that one is a mess. I guess they can’t all be winners, but the movie is certainly more interested in background, atmosphere, and futuristic society situations than in action. And that’s why we get this storyline looming over our heads the entire movie about a water supply company that has turned off the water on the poorer people, and is the reason for these riots. The rioters are making their way to the building owned by the water supply company. But do we get any resolution to this story? Not at all. It’s all just background. Maybe it’s that this movie just has too much it’s trying to take on. Without the water supply company storyline, and the riots, for example, maybe we’d actually find out more about the Wolf King, (who shot him?,) the Acupulco character, and a whole bunch of other things. Instead of spending money on helicopter crashing into buildings in the background, it could have been spent on more sequences like that Nice hallways scene. More action and better development of the twists would have gone a long way. The movie has all the right building blocks and some of them definitely work, but others fall just short of the mark.