Sterling K. Brown and Jodie Foster in terrific sci-fi 'Hotel Artemis'
Posted June 6, 2018 2:31 p.m. EDT
``Hotel Artemis'' is the first feature film from Drew Pearce, who also wrote the screenplay. He was a co-writer on ``Mission Impossible -- Rogue Nation'' (good) and ``Iron Man 3'' (so so), but this is his first solo feature credit, and the first chance he's had to put his vision onto celluloid without another director acting as middle-man. It turns out that that's a very good thing. It turns out that maybe no one should ever get in Pearce's way again.
This is the time of year when movies tend to get big and lousy, with a steady barrage of superhero clamor relieved only by a handful of worthy foreign films and obscure independents that will make 12 cents at the box office. So the arrival of ``Hotel Artemis'' -- something as irresistibly fun as it is original and imaginative -- is especially welcome, with its genuine thrills, terrific cast and strong performances.
It's the kind of movie that European filmmakers like Jean-Pierre Jeunet (``Delicatessen,'' ``Micmacs'') have been trying to make for years -- something zany and atmospheric and mostly set in a single location. But their films inevitably fail, because they lack the one thing that American filmmakers do well, a good story. ``Hotel Artemis'' has that good story, which builds, accelerates and converges.
The movie takes place in Los Angeles in 2028, and being L.A., there's a riot in progress, the biggest one ever. Sterling K. Brown plays the leader of a gang of thieves. After some of them are wounded during a heist, they escape and head over to the Hotel Artemis, a private club/hospital for criminals.
The deal is that criminals pay for a membership in advance, which allows them expert medical treatment in the event that they get shot by cops and can't go to a conventional hospital. The place is run by ``The Nurse,'' played by Jodie Foster; but make no mistake, the nurse is a doctor capable of the most advanced surgeries, including in one case a liver transplant. She gets the liver by generating one on her 3-D printer.
Not enough can be said about the performance of Foster in this film. She brings to the role a quality of having seen the absolute worst in people, but also the suggestion that, as a result, she accepts them on their own terms and knows how to handle any situation. So she starts the film radiating confidence and sadness, and then, as the story wears on, a creeping sense of panic.
Most of the movie takes place inside the Hotel Artemis, which is nicely imagined in terms of design -- a mix of steampunk, the Belle Epoque and futuristic technology. It serves as an evocative backdrop for a mix of extreme characters. Dave Bautista, who is very funny in the ``Guardians of the Galaxy'' movies, has a similar role here as the nurse's strong-arm orderly. Sofia Boutella gets her best showcase as a French assassin, who shows up at the hotel on business. Charlie Day gets to step out of comedy, as a sleazy gangster. And Jeff Goldblum shows up as the man known as the Wolf King, the toughest mobster in Los Angeles. The mobster acts exactly like Jeff Goldblum in every other movie -- if he didn't, we'd be disappointed.
As a first-time director, Pearce manages something difficult. He creates a tone that acknowledges absurdity, but also consequences. He finds an edge that's extreme, that's weird, that's satirical and that goes right to the edge of farce, and yet the movie is at all points as involving as an intense drama. It helps to have really good actors, such as Brown and Foster, doing the heavy lifting in the emotional scenes -- they're both terrific. But someone had to tell them what to do.
It's hard to imagine that Drew Pearce just stumbled up and accidentally made an excellent movie. ``Hotel Artemis'' makes me want to see what he comes up with next.
Mick LaSalle is The San Francisco Chronicle's movie critic.
4 STARS OUT OF 4 STARS
Sci-fi drama. Starring Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown and Sofia Boutella. Directed by Drew Pearce. (R. 97 minutes.)