Hotel Artemis has a killer cast and no sense of humor

Sterling K. Brown and Brian Tyree Henry are two members in a great ensemble that doesn't deliver.

Sterling K. Brown and Brian Tyree Henry are two members in a great ensemble that doesn't deliver. Courtesy of Global Road Entertainment

Decent drinking game: Get a bottle of something potent, and take a hit off it every time Hotel Artemis reminds you of John Wick.

Better drinking game: Just do some shots and rewatch John Wick. (For maximum enjoyment, fast-forward past the dog-murder stuff.)

In fairness, Hotel Artemis is more than a John Wick knockoff. It’s a hodgepodge of cinematic tropes and callbacks, blended up and reconstituted into some partially hydrogenated brick of movie product.

The semi-intriguing concept sounds like it was improvised by a loopy teenager in one breathless run-on sentence. The Hotel Artemis is a combination safe house/hospital for criminals, and on the night that water-shortage riots in near-future Los Angeles threaten to overrun the city, the hotel becomes the gathering place for a cadre of outlaws all seeking the sci-fi medical treatment of an agoraphobic nurse who isn’t aware one of her clients is there to assassinate another.

Jodie Foster—billed simply as the Nurse—is the lynchpin of the ensemble, holding down the high-tech fort with only the help of her mountainous concierge and hospital orderly, Everest (movie MVP Dave Bautista).

The underworld characters she connects, known by tropical-themed aliases like Aculpulco and Waikiki, include a steely bank robber (Sterling K. Brown) and his injured brother (Atlanta’s Brian Tyree Henry), a motormouthed arms dealer (Charlie Day), a sexy contract killer (Sofia Boutella), and the mysterious criminal mastermind who owns the hotel.

If you do feel compelled to see Hotel Artemis, at least avoid looking at the cast list ahead of time—the reveal of the actor playing the hotel’s owner is one of the film’s most pleasant surprises.

Not that the rest of the cast isn’t game. Aside from the awkwardly vamping Boutella and a miscast Charlie Day, it’s a killer lineup. The overqualified Foster is excellent, of course, and her personal reclusiveness adds a layer of depth to her character’s refusal to leave the hotel. Brown’s cerebral cool is formidable, Henry brings soulfulness to what could be a throwaway part, and Zachary Quinto plays the crime boss’ son as a bumbling, approval-craving Don Jr. type.

Yet Iron Man 3 writer and first-time director Drew Pearce defies mathematics by arriving at a sum less than the total of the parts. No one of Hotel Artemis’ various interwoven storylines is particularly inspired or allotted enough screen time to exist as more than a sketch. The whole thing snaps together like cheap Swedish furniture, functional but inelegant.

The noirish set design is familiar but not evocative. The water shortage subplot hints at the pulp populist propaganda of early John Carpenter yet never rises above plot device. A couple of solid fight scenes are barely enough to qualify it as an action movie. Hotel Artemis suffers by comparison to its inspirations in nearly every instance.

The most obvious comparison being to John Wick, with its Continental hotel. But whereas the John Wick movies play the concept of a hotel for hitmen as an entrée into an even nuttier mythology about a vast, interconnected cabal of assassins, Hotel Artemis fusses over its rules of order strictly as scaffolding for the storyline.

Hotel Artemis defies any attempt to lean into its summer-matinee silliness. It fronts a high concept but fails to even make good on lowbrow thrills.

directed by Drew Pearce
now open, area theaters