Hotel Artemis review: “a zippy, zesty shoot-’em-up that never takes itself too seriously”

Jodie Foster's bedside manner is put to the test when her sanctuary for wounded crooks comes under siege

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★★★★

Rules and guidelines are significant in movies, from the keep-schtum code of Fight Club to the mogwai care and grooming tips of Gremlins. It stands to reason, therefore, that a hi-tech underworld hospital, where battle-scarred baddies go to get stitched up with no questions asked, would have a list of do’s and don’ts.

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Jodie Foster, the veteran (and only) nurse at the titular Hotel Artemis, housed in the secure penthouse floor of a disused LA flophouse, reiterates time and again how the place is run and how she expects criminals under her care to behave; no cops, no guns, no killing other patients, and no insulting the staff. Take a wild guess as to how many of the above are flaunted in the space of 93 minutes…

Screenwriter and first-time director Drew Pearce (who co-penned Iron Man 3 and devised the story for Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) sets his debut feature in 2028 during what a TV news report tells us is the most violent riot in Los Angeles history, so the unrest provides would-be perfect cover for brothers Sterling K Brown (This Is Us) and Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta) to pull off an audacious bank heist. Things go awry when they’re confronted by cops tasked with quelling street skirmishes, leaving the bullet-riddled siblings in serious need of Foster’s last-ditch bedside manner.

To complicate matters further, the less clued-up of the pair (Henry) has inadvertently lifted a pen concealing half-a-dozen near priceless diamonds belonging to feared overlord the Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum, in default-set wisecracking mode), who just happens to own half the city, including every bandage, gurney and laser-based surgical instrument Artemis has to offer.

Trouble looks set to escalate when the Wolf King himself is rushed to hospital with life-threatening wounds, accompanied by his eager-to-impress son (Zachary Quinto) and a squadron of tooled-up henchmen. Also resident in fortress-like rooms with idyllic names (Acapulco, Nice, etc) is a boorish arms dealer (Charlie Day) and a femme fatale assassin (Sofia Boutella), the latter engineering events to bring her face to face with her next hit.

If all this sounds a tad over the top, it is – but in a good way. British-born Pearce fashions a zippy, zesty shoot-‘em-up that stretches incredulity to just a couple of notches below snapping point; a fast-paced thriller that never takes itself too seriously or risks overstaying its welcome.

Con Air and the first Die Hard are obvious touchstones, with the sporadic violence nicely tempered by a script laden with eminently quotable dialogue. Muscle-bound orderly and ad hoc bodyguard “Everest” (Dave Bautista) calmly outlines his obligations as a healthcare professional before telling a thug he has no qualms about “un-healing your ass.”

Brown is a stoically level-headed presence as the smarter of the two bank robbers, comedian Jenny Slate does well in the lesser role of a cop caught in the crossfire, while Goldblum delivers a perfect balance of menace and mirth as the shady kingpin.

The absolute star of the piece, however, is Foster, almost unrecognisable as the dowdy, ageing Nurse Thomas, an anxiety-filled, borderline alcoholic who hasn’t stepped outside the hospital in years. Shuffling along dingy corridors listening to the Mamas and the Papas or Buffy Sainte-Marie on her cumbersome cassette player, she expertly tends to her guests’ injuries while harbouring painful memories from her own past.

It’s a subtly comic turn, but the understated way in which Foster allows the mask to drop and reveal her inner heartache is extraordinarily affecting. It’s unlikely anyone involved in a film of this ilk will be booking Ubers on Oscar night, but hers is a performance so richly layered that a nomination wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility.

Having said that, the target demographic for Hotel Artemis isn’t exactly cinema-goers queuing up to share a middle-aged woman’s “journey” or redemptive life lessons. This is a brash, bang-packed cavalcade of outrageous violence populated in the most part by ne’er-do-wells who get what’s coming to them. It’s well worth checking in, and we hope you enjoy your stay.

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Released in cinemas on Friday 20 July