If you loved John Wick, you should check out (into?) Hotel Artemis. These crime-thrillers have no direct link, but both offer a scintillatingly stylized and richly realized world of charming and deeply deranged rogues. The titular establishment of the latter functions a lot like John Wick’s Continental, a hotel with a dedicated clientele, where hitmen declare a truce so they can relax in peace. Except the Hotel Artemis is a hospital that caters to the high-rolling criminal element. To keep things rolling, there are rules. No insulting the staff. No weapons. No killing other guests. Pretty standard stuff. But after 22 years in operation, one wild night will see every rule broken and colorful characters clash with plenty of blood and bravado.
Jodie Foster stars as The Nurse, the wearied head of the hotel. Whether she’s dealing with an insult-spitting arms dealer (a surprising Charlie Day), a mysterious femme fatale (a divine Sofia Boutella), or her loyal but oft-frustrated orderly (a sharply funny Dave Bautista), she’s got a crooked yet warm grin and a no-nonsense attitude. But when two unexpected guests come crashing, The Nurse has to confront her tragic past and make some dangerous decisions.
Hotel Artemis also stars Sterling K. Brown as a suave and smart bank robber, who’ll go by the alias Waikiki. (Every guest goes by the exotic namesake of their room: Acapulco, Nice, Honolulu.) This enthralling thriller that splits time among its electrifying ensemble, but focuses chiefly on the arcs of The Nurse and Waikiki, two old-timers who may want out of the game, but don’t know what else the world could offer. When the bank heist goes bad, Waikiki brings his bullet-ridden brother (a puppy-eyed Brian Tyree Henry) in for emergency surgery. But while there, he crosses paths with an old flame and a new threat.
This marks the feature debut of writer/director Drew Pearce, who is maybe best known for the Marvel One-Shot “Hail to the King,” which played as a regrettable retcon for Iron Man 3. Hotel Artemis is a solidly thrilling, fantastically fun, and sickly stylish debut. The production design is one of wealth and rot. Elaborate murals on the hotel’s walls are grungy with mold. Velvet chairs, dark colors, and heavy lighting give the place an oppressive sense of heat. You can practically smell the musk of sweat, blood, and mildew that must hang in the air. And all of this—like the riot streaking across the Los Angeles streets outside—plays as a tantalizing harbinger of doom to the elegant anti-heroes swanning through the hotel’s decadent rooms.
Pearce stuffs his debut with an impeccable cast. With a shuffled step, sharp smirk and slicing side-eye, Foster deftly establishes The Nurse’s long history with the hotel and its dramatic guests along with her unique brand of tough love. In a bespoke suit and eyes that flash from baleful to mournful, Brown is dashing and devasting. And his chemistry with Boutella will make you pine for a prequel that digs into their sordid and surely sexy backstory.
Boutella has become the go-to girl for action movies, breaking hearts and laying down devastation in Atomic Blonde, The Mummy and Kingsman: The Secret Service. Here, she’s a female power fantasy, slapping down sexists pests and kicking all kinds of ass, all while looking jaw-droppingly glamorous in a brazenly red and scandalously cut gown. She’s got the grace of a jungle cat, striding in beauty and power, ever ready to pounce. She is a vision who deserves her own violent glam franchise immediately.
But not every criminal has such effortless cool. Day and Quinto play shockingly against type while wearing wretched mustaches. Best-known for playing lovable dopes, Day’s blank expressions and everyman charms are gone. In their place, his scrunched face brings malice, sparking machismo, and a despicable sense of entitlement. Meanwhile, with fire in his eyes and a growl on his lips, Quinto plays a short-tempered and grungy gangster desperate to impress his kingpin father. And that brings us to Jeff Goldblum as the Wolf King.
Forget the eccentricities that have made Goldblum a quirky hunk and internet icon. Here, the silver fox delivers a slick menace and riveting ruthlessness as the Hotel Artemis’s most notorious member. The moment he rolls into frame, the movie swells for his arrival. It’s now hotter in the theater. It’s now tenser in the hotel, and everyone’s feeling it. Goldblum’s sexual charisma makes this smooth criminal instantly fascinating and frightening and jettisons Hotel Artemis into its ambitious third act.
Pearce fills his film with juicy dialogue like, “I guess my ballroom days are over, baby,” and dark witticisms like, “We’ll get you a new (suit), one without all those bullet holes.” And his spectacular cast makes a meal of every line. This is unapologetically indulgent, giving into the seductive swoon of gangster movies, allowing us to fall in love with these dastardly yet sexy bastards. Hotel Artemis sets up a spectacular contraption for drama and showdowns, then pulls the spring to give us a catastrophic and compelling spectacle of collisions and human carnage amidst a sweltering setting pungent in sex and death. You get to see a payoff for every single setup. But things go off the rails in the finale, feeling overstuffed and ultimately rushed. Still, this bit of overeager fumbling is easy to forgive, because ultimately Hotel Artemis offers an unrepentant rush, scads of style, and sensationally fucked-up fun.