Genre : Action
Country : United States
Rating : R
Director: Drew Pearce
Sterling K. Brown
Few film genres are able to jump on top of a trend as well as the action genre. When something is a hit studios will do their best to ride that wave as long as possible. When early John Woo movies gained cult status in the early 90’s fellow directors Dante Lam, Ringo Lam and Tsui Hark started finding work in the United States. After The Matrix surprised the world seemingly every action hero wore Ray Bans and shiny leather jackets. And that’s saying nothing about the glut of superhero movies to hit the big screen after the success of 2000’s X-Men. Clout chasing is a common occurrence within the action genre and the most recent film to influence the genre has been 2014’s John Wick.
Directed by stuntmen Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, John Wick was a surprise hit. Mixing Hong Kong-inspired gun fu with a modern, blood soaked revenge story, John Wick was a treat for audiences and critics alike. Since then not only has John Wick become a full-fledged franchise (with John Wick 3 coming out in 2019) but Stahelski and Leitch’s distinct style started to appear more and more. Aside from Leitch’s own Atomic Blonde movies like Run All Night, The Accountant and The Foreigner have similar elements either thematically or visually. The latest film to be inspired by Keanu Reeves’s master assassin is Hotel Artemis.
The year is 2028 and Los Angeles is on the brink of destruction. With corporations in control of water rioters have taken to the streets demanding justice. Using the riots as a cover career criminals Waikiki and Honolulu try to rob a bank when Honolulu is shot. With nowhere else to go they head to the Hotel Artemis, a hospital for criminals run by The Nurse (Jodie Foster). Things quickly go from bad to worse with the arrival of LA’s biggest crime lord, the Wolf King.
A shady criminal organization, enclosed spaces, Sofia Boutella, all things considered Hotel Artemis sounds like the perfect scenario for an action extravaganza. The kind of movie that should make Smokin’ Aces or Shoot’em Up look like My Dinner with Andre. Unfortunately that isn’t what we get. Whether due to a short production schedule or its lower budget Hotel Artemis can feel surprisingly sparse when it comes to action. After an exciting bank robbery in the beginning action comes in short spurts throughout Artemis‘s lean 97 before an explosive climax. I have to admit it left me wanting more. What little action we do get is great. With the carnage mostly focusing on nurse Everest (Dave Bautista) and assassin Nice (Sofia Boutella) their fight scenes play to their strengths. With Everest coming off as a monstrous bruiser and Nice being the agile yet deadly femme fatale it feels like a mix of WWE and Atomic Blonde. Their dual scene makes for a fun watch, I just wish there was more of it. This isn’t to say the movie is a failure on all fronts. In fact, I found Hotel Artemis to be quite a fun watch.
Perhaps most obvious is the film’s look. Like his Iron Man 3 collaborator Shane Black, director Drew Pearce does a masterful job making LA feel like a live, vibrant place. Despite mostly taking place at the Artemis his use of flashback and news reports make Los Angeles feel alive. Just as much detail is given to the Artemis. Practically a world unto itself Pearce does just as good a job making it feel like a real Old Hollywood hotel.
The second big reason for Hotel Artemis works is the stellar cast assembled. A mix of Emmy and Oscar nominees they are able to elevate what could just be a mix of crime movie clichés. At the center of the film is Sterling K. Brown as Waikiki. Far away from This Is Us, Brown is able to give the role a deepness you wouldn’t expect. Despite doing some awful things he straddles the line between sympathetic and bland quite well. A big part of this being due to his scenes with Honolulu, played by Brian Tyree Henry (Paperboi on Atlanta). Not only are the two able to pull off their roles but they interact like real brothers. The two have a chemistry that just feels authentic. Like Waikiki is someone trying their best to deal with a troubled younger brother. The kind of dramatic performance you would expect in a family drama yet makes it work into the neon-soaked world of Hotel Artemis.
The movie’s other main character is The Nurse, portrayed by Jodie Foster. Her first on screen role in several years she’s perfectly cast as the troubled yet resilient manager of the Hotel Artemis. While she has her own demons to confront, she continues on and does the job she was born for. It’s a role that could easily be overacted or feel hackneyed but Foster handles it with the same skill and talent she would a bigger movie. But as good as she is the films real star is the Wolf King.
Throughout the film the Wolf King is talked about in hushed whispers, projecting a presence that seems larger than life. Then, amidst an entourage of armed thugs is a middle aged man in sandals and a fur coat. And as ridiculous as it sounds it works. Portrayed by Jeff Goldblum, he peacocks onto the screen with the quirky charisma we have come to expect from him. Eccentric yet threatening he is followed around by his youngest son, portrayed by Zachary Quinto. Following his father wherever he goes he is on a constant quest for his father’s approval. A quest he continually fails at. An antagonistic relationship the two have a great rapport that would be perfect in a Quentin Tarantino film.
From the look to the frenetic action one can’t help but think of John Wick and its signature hotel The Continental. Despite the advertising that isn’t quite what we get. While the fight scenes are well choreographed what we get is a slower, more deliberate film focusing on character instead of action. Despite its outstanding cast providing some memorable performances Hotel Artemis is hindered by a script and characters we have seen dozens of times already. Regardless it can be overlooked thanks to some enjoyable bursts of action and the always delightful Jeff Goldblum. Like a real hotel it’s a fun place to visit but you may not want to stay for too long.