Hotel Artimis (***1/2) well-crafted and stays within its range

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Hotel Artemis – 2018

Written and Directed by Drew Pearce
Starring Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Brian Tyree Henry, Jenny Slate, Zachary Quinto, Charlie Day, Dave Bautista, Kenneth Choi

There is something to be said about doing something well, even if you’re not shooting for the stars. Drew Pearce has turned in quality work at almost every turn in his career. Iron Man 3 and its accompanying short, All Hail the King and Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation is an excellent resume for the writer turned director. This time, for his feature-length debut, he keeps the story to a minimum.

What amounts to roughly a subplot within the John Wick series, Hotel Artemis takes place in a violent near future within an alternative hospice, for those looking to avoid detection by the authorities. It is operated by Fosters aged, crotchety Nurse Jean. She takes care of all of those who have a qualifying membership. The first people we see, Brown’s Sherman, his brother and another accomplice Buke (Choi), who are on the run from the police after a botched bank robbery. Of the three, Buke does not have the right credentials. When he protests too much he is removed by her assistant, Everest (Bautista).

Once inside, Sherman and his brothers are given silly names to hide their identity. His brother, called Honolulu, is balancing on the edge of oblivion. His injury is complicated by his drug addiction. As he waits, Sherman meets other characters who are recovering from various ailments. Each of these presents a check on the box of characters required in any unsavory situation. They are played expertly. Even Charlie Day is kept under wraps for a time. Boutella has a flesh wound. No doubt she is here for another reason.

Quinto, who is the son of the Hotel Artemis’ owner arrives filled with piss and vinegar. Why he is so angry is not important. He’s required to be there, threatening completely rational people irrationally so we have someone who we understand is bad and worth being reviled. It’s a character Quinto seems to like playing, the unhinged type A personality. Not that he does it remarkably well, but I digress.

The point to Hotel Artemis is definitely not in originality or risk taking. This is a story that we’ve seen many times. What works here is the intangibles. The camera work is incredibly crisp and has a delightful color palette provided by Chung Chung-hoon (IT). Pearce has these characters and their machinations set to a slow enough burn as to make them seem like real people. He moves the story along, doesn’t make the routine seem more than it is, and gives viewers the feeling that they live within the space presented onscreen.

Brown has an incredible career in front of him if he keeps working with talented filmmakers who can capture his indelible charisma. He’s wonderful in the role of the protagonist who seems just to be along for the ride.

That’s what the movie is, essentially. It’s a short, contained thrill ride. It’s like the sturdy old rollercoaster that’s been sitting in the county fairgrounds for decades. There are no turns that one does not expect, but the upkeep is good enough that the ride is still fairly sharp.

Bautista is another who benefits from Pearce’s ability to inflect personality into routine characters. He takes the little things that Pearce gives him and lets the character come to a dignified, humble life, so that when the credits roll, you know who Everest is and why he stands at all.

Boutella does some magnificent action maneuvering in her role as femme fatale. As good as Theron is in Atomic Blonde, I think I prefer Sofia’s moves in this one instead of how she died in that film.

Jodie Foster, though, is the reason I went to see Hotel Artemis. I had a crush on her back before I could type. If she’s past the years for caring how she looks compared to the way she acts by a longshot, I sure do enjoy the extra dimension she gives to her characters. She is a small, weak person with many frailties. She has a glut of rules she issues to people, knowing that rules in film are only issued so we can see the violence of breaking them. She makes incredibly nonsensical moves in the end. She’s still the best thing in the film, outside of Brown.

I am glad she’s back. If the material isn’t as much as she deserves, the team assembled help her play the hell out of it.

(*** out of *****)

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