Don’t be fooled by high-caliber casts. When the advertising for a film focuses heavily on the well-known, and in some cases, incredibly talented actors, it doesn’t necessarily equate to a particularly good film. Case in point — Movie 43. This 2013 film boasted about its extremely big names that all came together to have a good laugh. The end result, though, was a disgusting mess of a film that had almost zero laughs, took their premises way too far, and didn’t know what to do with their all-star talent. I can’t say that Hotel Artemis is near as bad as Movie 43, but it spends so much time lamenting over the caliber of its cast, that it completely forgets to give any of the characters or the plot any meaningful substance.
Let’s begin by going over that cast and where they belong in the context of the film. (Please note, because all of the characters are criminals seeking refuge and medical treatment during what the movie touts as the largest riot in Los Angeles history, all names are either a cryptonym or the name of the suite they occupy at the hotel.)
First up is Jodie Foster as The Nurse, a disgraced nurse who now runs the hotel and patches all of her clients up when needed. Her biggest character traits include being a stickler for the rules, making sure no one who isn’t already a registered client gets in, and a “creative” walk that I guess is supposed to mean something, but comes off as an actor doing something quirky for no other reason than to add some unique trait to their character.
The Nurse’s right-hand and muscle is Everest, played by Dave Bautista, whose only purpose is to make sure The Nurse stays on task and fix any problem that may arise. Based on his performance, I’m still not sure if Bautista has the chops to rise to the same level as Dwayne Johnson (then again, I used to think the same about Johnson), but he does hold his own among the rest of the cast, even though he comes off as the weakest of the bunch.
Sterling K. Brown plays Waikiki, a bank robber who heads to the hotel when his brother (Brian Tyree Henry) is shot during a heist gone wrong. He plays the character as his usual stoic self, and seems to be given super-human abilities that are never really explained. Does he have clothes with Kevlar lining that prevent him from being shot, or does his skin have material grafted within it to make him partially indestructible? The latter sounds much more interesting, but writer/director Drew Pearce doesn’t seem to care in exploring these types of questions.
Already at the hotel are Acapulco (Charlie Day), a weasely little prick (natch) that spends most of his time pushing the buttons of everyone around him while attempting to leave the hotel, and Nice (Sofia Boutella), a contract killer who “only kills important people.”
Finally, we have Jeff Goldblum as the owner of Hotel Artemis, also known as The Wolf King (or Niagara). Although Goldblum’s magnetic presence shines in every word dribbled from his mouth, The Wolf King is supposed to be a high-caliber drug lord and ruler of the city, but none of that comes through in his performance. The reason for this is because his story arc falls prey to the same problem all of the other story arcs have — absolutely no depth.
The backstories for each of the above characters is weak at best and non-existent at worst. Small, and sometimes, enticing tidbits are given about each character, getting you excited for the potential of where the story may lead and how this may affect other characters, only to fizzle out like a firework that spits a few sparks instead of exploding in delightful glory. As each of these characters start to come together, we’re waiting for a big explosion that never manifests.
Take The Nurse, for example. The reason she runs the hotel is because she was stripped of her license after her son was found dead on the beach because of an overdose. Pearce tries to give weight to this idea by having someone from her past show up to remind her of this, but he doesn’t ever follow through on anything, including the potential for revenge when the truth about his overdose comes to light. It’s an event that happened, but doesn’t give any explanation for why it eventually led to who she is now.
This lack of interest in forming compelling backstories also leads to several feeble setups. Throughout the several hours this movie takes place, a couple of rules are broken, but neither lead to any satisfactory conclusions. In true John Wick fashion, the first is not harming any other guest, a rule that’s never given any time to breathe or command any consequences; the other is refraining from allowing any non-members, especially cops, into the hotel.
When a wounded police officer (Jenny Slate) who may just be someone from The Nurse’s past shows up requesting asylum at the exact same time The Wolf King’s son (Zachary Quinto) shows up to lock everything down so that no new “guests” will steal his father’s room, things begin to get sticky. But again, this whole idea is muted so much in the fact that nothing of consequence ever happens, causing any tension that may arise from this to be laid to waste.
Not even the idea of the riots is given any time to mature into anything of significance. At one point early in the film, Everest is tasked with taking one of Waikiki’s crewmembers out to a back alley because he’s not a member of the hotel. The criminal offender (Kenneth Choi) is told to keep his mouth shut about the hotel, and he screams that he’ll die out there alone. But the character is never heard from again, so why did Pearce feel the need to spend so much time on this aspect of the film if there wasn’t going to be any significant return?
And I guess that’s what this comes down to — Hotel Artemis is a slew of unfulfilled promises with no significant return on your investment; a series of connected vignettes that have no purpose. If there are any saving graces for the film, everyone involved genuinely seem to care about making a good movie, and the action sequences are done well. But when you have nothing to back those things up because you have no idea how to bring anything full circle or give strength to meaning, much like the hotel itself, everything crumbles with no substantial effects.
My Grade: C-
Unlike what Paul Feig tried to do with his all-female reboot of Ghostbusters, the producers of Ocean’s Eight set their world within the same one as their predecessors, reinvigorating the smooth, stylistic swagger with a new crop of thieves that could potentially one day hold their own with their male counterparts. A-
Next week, new movies include Incredibles 2, Tag and Superfly. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.