There’s a grimy, B-movie charm to the Hotel Artemis, a secret hideout for the criminals of Los Angeles. Surrounded by the largest riot the city has ever seen in 2028, this art-deco hotel feels like a combination of Barton Fink’s Hotel Earle and the assassin refuge from John Wick, the Continental. Like the hotel itself, Hotel Artemis seems like an already needed respite from the usual summer movies, a dose of dumb fun that at least breaks the mold a little bit. While Hotel Artemis does provide some enjoyment from its modest and promising conceit, there’s just not enough rooms in this hotel to house the multitude of ideas that writer-director Drew Pearce tries to cram in.
The Hotel Artemis is run by The Nurse (Jodie Foster), an agoraphobic with a tragic past, who is aided by her healthcare professional/muscle Everest (Dave Bautista). The visitors of the hotel pay their dues for the hotel’s secrecy and private healthcare, as long as they agree to the few rules, such as no killing other inhabitants and no guns. But of course, rules are made to be broken.
Hotel Artemis takes place over the course of one night, and despite evidence to the contrary and a bursting guest list, the Nurse claims that this is “just a typical Wednesday night.” The bank robber codenamed “Waikiki” (Sterling K. Brown) has come to the hotel to lay low and get medical attention to his brother “Honolulu” (Brian Tyree Henry). “Nice” (Sofia Boutella) is an assassin of high-profile targets, while “Acapulco” (Charlie Day) is a loudmouth gunrunner waiting to escape the riots. In addition to the patrons, the hotel will have a myriad of unexpected guests, from Morgan (Jenny Slate), a cop who knows of The Nurse’s past before the hotel, the hotel’s owner known as The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum), and his weak son Crosby (Zachary Quinto). Occupancy is quite full on this typical Wednesday.
Hotel Artemis is often at its best when it embraces the core simplicity of its idea, and that’s no clearer than in the relationship between The Nurse and Everest. Their friendship based on a mutual ignoring of the past is full of heart in the smallest ways, whether its their light banter or a knowing glance at the traumas they’ve left in the past. Hotel Artemis also thrives when there’s a clear history to this location and these people. Pearce writes The Nurse as having an obvious past with most of these inhabitants, without leaning on it too hard. This leads to nice small moments of realization that although she’s known these people for years, there’s so much still hidden within all of them.
Unfortunately, Pearce also gives each character not only a main motivation, but a secondary characteristic or flaw that packs this film far too full of ideas. Hotel Artemis will go on small diversions throughout that often feel like there’s no clear direction to the film. Pearce throws in heroin addiction, diamond theft, California’s drought, commentary on conservatism, the history of The Nurse, and tons of other ideas that attempt to flesh out this world, but just muddles it instead.
Pearce also takes up a large part of Hotel Artemis showing the details of how the hotel actually runs, showing how the medical services work, the various entrances to the hotel, and even the setting up of the individual rooms. While this is some slow and steady world building as well, his third act shows the flimsiness of the actual hotel and how easily those aforementioned rules can be broken. If you have a hotel full of secretive criminals, maybe it’s not a great idea to have your power source available from the customer-accessible rooftop, or an ax right at the entrance, and especially don’t have a 3D printer that any person can apparently print up a gun in a no-gun zone.
Hotel Artemis riffs on John Wick, but also of the cheese and violence-filled, celebrity-packed films of the mid-2000s, like Identity or Smokin’ Aces. Yet despite the inherent violence of Hotel Artemis, the film stays remarkably tame, except for one fantastic action sequence reminiscent of Oldboy – likely because both films share cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon. The lack of action in Hotel Artemis almost seems like Pearce is trying to hold on until the very end to pay off this expected note. But instead, his final act tries to find resolution to all his various ideas, giving an appropriate payoff every character in his massive cast, and deliver the goods in terms of action.
Even with Pearce’s best intentions, trying to pile character and plot to add details to this world, Hotel Artemis shines when its at its simplest. This environment is intrinsically interesting to delve into, it doesn’t need an abundance of ideas to make it work. Like its apparent inspiration John Wick, the cleaner, the better. Hotel Artemis may have more ambition than it needs to have, but at its core, it can be an enjoyable ride when its not focusing on chaotic plot machinations and its packed guest book.