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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Hotel Artemis

Always nice to see original science fiction films - even when it's not as good as it could have been.

This review is also up on Channel 24

What it’s about
The year is 2028 and the city of Los Angeles is a warzone with cops on the one side, rioters and criminals on the other. In this hellscape lies Hotel Artemis, a secret hospital for criminals couched in an old hotel that is run by an old woman known only as the Nurse and admits only those who are members of the hotel. As a number of “guests”, both welcome and not, find themselves at the doors of the Artemis, the Nurse is forced to confront her own past and a suddenly uncertain future.

What we thought
Setting Hotel Artemis in 2028 is a fairly bold statement by writer/ director Drew Pearce as he presents a very near future when one of America’s largest cities has descended into absolute chaos, while the most incredible nano-technology is used even by outlaw doctors to heal even the most fatally wounded patients. It seems incredibly unlikely but there’s just enough of the smack of truth that it forces audiences, though most especially American audiences, to confront their current reality and where their future is headed with miraculous tech on the one side and violent lawlessness and division on the other.

It’s an interesting premise but, to be entirely honest, Pearce never fully delivers on the film’s “speculative fiction” world-building; using it instead as a mere backdrop for an undeniably entertaining and moody action-thriller. There’s plenty to really like about Hotel Artemis but for all that one might complain about its plot contrivances; the unlikeliness of its technology (though, not for nothing, I read a story on CNN about the emergence of 3D-printed weaponry shortly before writing this) or just how absurdly far-fetched it all is, it’s only truly unforgivable crime is that it never fully realizes its promise. It has tons of brawn and even some heart but a bit of brains would not have gone amiss.

It has, for a start, a really excellent cast. Dave Bautista once again proves to be far, far more than his humble wrestling roots would have once suggested as he proves himself to be the mountain-sized (he’s literally called Everest) beating heart at the centre of the film. Meanwhile. Sophia Boutella similarly continues to impress as a dancer/model turned actress who mixes raw sexuality with admirable physicality and plenty of screen presence.

And that’s just a couple of the film’s many supporting characters. The film also boasts plenty of proven talent in the forms of Sterling K Brown (brilliant in his first major feature-film role) and Jeff Goldblum, as well as some more dramatic roles for a couple of actors best known for their comedic work, Charlie Day and Jenny Slate. And, of course, at its centre is Jodie Foster in her first role in five years and she’s typically great here, but it’s particularly pleasing to see her in a role that is as wryly fun as it is serious.

It’s an impressive cast but it wouldn’t quite be fair to say that they singlehandedly carry the film, so much as they add real gravitas to the already colourful characters that Drew Pearce dreamed up for the film. These characters are not exactly complex but they’re all pretty memorable, which is a real achievement in a genre that far too often has its characters being subservient to convoluted plotting and relentless action scenes. Mind you, the plot here has its twists and turns but is largely impressively stripped down so there is far more room for the characters and actors to shine through.

The action, on the other hand, is brutal, often very gory and bone-crunchingly visceral but it’s also well-spaced between quieter moments that build up character, plot and that all-important atmosphere. It’s gritty but not humourless; grimy but colourful; grounded but seriously absurd – whatever else you might say about the film, it definitely has a distinctive look and feel that elevated it beyond similar sub-Dredd fare and gives it a bit more staying power than it would otherwise have.

None of this makes Hotel Artemis a particularly great film and it certainly never quite lives up to its potential but it is effortlessly entertaining and makes great use of its excellent cast, is delivered with plenty of trashy b-movie flare and has the good grace to neither overstay its welcome nor take itself too seriously.


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