Hotel Artemis has an appealing cast in service of a script only intermittently worthy of it. First time director and experienced writer Drew Pearce’s pulpy lines vary in quality but they’re always delivered with personality. It’s a film wise enough to point out that “The Wolf King of LA” is a dumb nickname for a crime boss but not clever enough to come up with something better.
The titular hotel is a combination safehouse and neutral zone for injured criminals who need their bloody wounds patched up in a hurry. The rules of the premises are simple – no weapons, no cops, no killing each other. One tumultuous night during a riot in Los Angeles in the late 2020s, the hotel’s patients include a bank robber (Sterling K Brown) and his brother (Brian Tyree Henry), an assassin (Sofia Boutella) and an arms dealer (Charlie Day). Some rules get broken.
The hotel is run by the Nurse (Jodie Foster) the hotel’s lone medical professional, dispensing morphine and one-liners in equal measure. Foster, in her first feature appearance since 2013’s Elysium, makes another unconventional choice in roles; maybe she’s only interested in near-future sci-fi with vague social justice aspirations. Her performance – a combination of Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday and James Bond’s Q – anchors the talented cast and she effortlessly shades in the details of this brutal world as she treats the injured criminals assisted only by some high-tech gadgetry and a loyal body guard appropriately called Everest (Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista). An already difficult night is further complicated by the arrival of LA’s crimelord, the aforementioned “Wolf King of LA” (Jeff Goldblum, whom I fear is on the brink of being swallowed by self-parody ala Christopher Walken) and his son (Zachery Quinto) who is desperate to prove his mettle to his father because of course he is.
The film introduces intriguing bits of technology including body-implanted chips, Uber helicopters, nanorobotic surgeries and 3D printed livers. In future Los Angeles, water reserves have been privatized and hospitals like Artemis have memberships, a draconian outgrowth of the insurance system. The wonderful production design by Ramsey Avery encapsulates a future grown awry from the best mechanics and worst impulses of the present. The Hotel Artemis retains the dusty fixtures and moldering hallways of a bygone era, even as it’s been retrofitted with hospital gear that takes some its cues from auto manufacturing.
Despite the boost provided by the cast and production designer, Artemis proceeds close enough to the guidelines of lesser action movie fare that when it devolves into standard fighting sequences it’s expected rather than disappointing. The requisite punching and stabbing is presented competently if unimaginatively. A storyline involving an injured cop goes nowhere. Ultimately the film settles on being something like an ode to the ruthlessly committed healthcare worker. This is as fine as anyplace to settle, and the same could be said about about an air conditioned theater showing this movie on a hot Summer’s day.