It has been five years since Elysium, the last time Jodie Foster headlined a movie on camera, and for her return she has chosen another futuristic tale, Hotel Artemis — a rather odd duck of a project. In this dystopian crime thriller, she is considerably aged up and known only as The Nurse, a take-all-prisoners woman who for 22 years has run the Hotel Artemis, an Art Deco-looking building in 2028 Los Angeles whose penthouse serves as an emergency hospital for criminals who are “members.” Getting into the Hotel Artemis is harder than entering CIA headquarters, and you have to have a special microchip in your arm to pass through the tightly secured building. It is a very exclusive club indeed, and Foster’s Nurse doesn’t allow exceptions or rules to be broken.
In a compact 93 minutes, writer-director Drew Pearce, known mostly for scripting Iron Man 3 (with new scripts listed on IMDb for Sherlock Holmes 3 and the next Ghostbusters), takes us through the paces of a single night in a very dystopian L.A. which is enduring the third day of massive, destructive riots. The city appears to be virtually on fire and crime is rampant thanks largely to a water crisis perpetrated by corporate greed. At the beginning, a bank heist engineered by a gang led by Sterling K. Brown and his brother (Brian Tyree Henry) goes very wrong, leading to a confrontation with cops and a severe injury for the latter. Brown takes Henry straight to Hotel Artemis for treatment.
Others also lurking about on this night, including a French assassin (Sofia Boutella), an arms dealer (Charlie Day) and Morgan (Jenny Slate), an injured cop who begs Nurse to bend the rules and treat her as well. Word is the owner of the place, mobster mastermind Wolfking (Jeff Goldblum), is on his way in for emergency treatment, accompanied by his hot_button son (Zachary Quinto). Most of the characters only are identified by code names based on various rooms at the Artemis such as Waikiki for Brown and Honolulu for Henry. Goldblum is given the handle Niagara, while Boutella naturally has the French touch as Nice, and Day is Acapulco. Well, you get the idea.
Dave Bautista is a particularly welcome presence in all this as Everest, The Nurse’s right hand in running the place. You can imagine that on an apocalyptic night in the City of Angels where all hell is breaking loose, the Hotel Artemis becomes a haven for desperate characters all with their own competing agendas. As the latest entry in movies that live and breathe L.A. it’s worth the price of admission, at least for Angelenos who want to see their city in ways they haven’t before.
Pearce has uber-stylized all of this in a film that is part violent crime drama, part character piece, part paean to L.A. and part noir. The story is somewhat slight, and we never really get into the psyches of these inhabitants or much else about them except their present state. Foster’s earnest Nurse is the glue holding it all together, and she pulls off some nice moments, particularly in the few scenes she shares with the commanding presence of Goldblum, who lightens everything up once he finally enters the scene.
In a way I think this dialogue-driven enterprise might have played better on stage and lost some of the artifice, but on the other hand I think Pearce is going for some kind of cult item here, a cinematic curio that might gain more devotees as it ages. It is what they used to call a B-picture, one that could have been in black and white and on the bottom half of a double bill in the ’40s. The difference is, despite its indie roots, this is thoroughly an “A” cast, who give it their all, as I say in my video review (click the link above to watch). Whether that, and a chance to see Foster dive into a meaty role once again, is enough for more than a couple of weeks in theaters this crowded summer remains to be seen. Give Pearce, who makes his feature directorial debut here, credit for trying something off the beaten path.
Producers are Simon Cornwell, Stephen Cornwell, Marc Platt, Adam Siegel, and Pearce. Global Road picked the film up for a reported $4 million and releases it wide Friday.
Do you plan to see Hotel Artemis? Let us know what you think.